For decades, college campuses have been the center of social reform and political discussion because campuses have always been a place for young people to gather and share new ideas. Regardless of the popularity of these opinions, providing a platform for debate is one of the best ways to keep students politically involved and help them form their own opinions. However, the emergence of speech codes on college campuses is threatening this long-standing tradition. In response, The Young Americans for Liberty (YAL) are on a mission to bring free speech and the First Amendment back to college campuses across the U.S.
With 247 of the 900 Young Americans for Liberty (YAL) chapters restricted from organizing on campus due to speech codes, YAL has launched “The National Fight for Free Speech Campaign”. The goal of the campaign is to organize various student bodies and fight anti-free speech codes.
Free Speech codes are defined by the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) as any university regulation or policy that prohibits expression that would otherwise be protected under the First Amendment in society at large. In short, free speech codes are extra regulations placed specifically on students at certain universities, usually pertaining to speech content or viewpoint.
YAL, FIRE and other organizations dedicated to the preservation of the First Amendment believe such codes are dangerous to a free society. As FIRE explains, students attending universities with such codes inevitably begin to believe that they have the right to be protected from any offense or embarrassment that other students may cause with their comments. Likewise, other students begin to implement self-censorship and may refrain from sharing beliefs that may be considered “offensive” to others. Even the designation of free speech zones, areas designated for political demonstrations, are condemned by liberty organizations as they require expressed permission from campus officials, which often deny controversial protests.
Restricted Free Speech:
In September 2016, two YAL members at Kellogg Community College (KCC) filed suit against the university after they were arrested for handing out pocket-sized copies of the Constitution without administrative permission. The university claims that the students, Michelle Gregoire and Brandon Withers, were in violation of the school's solicitation policy for not gaining permission for the event from campus officials. However, Gregoire and Withers insist they had repeatedly sent requests through the proper channels and were ignored each time. Ultimately, the students were charged with trespassing and were subsequently jailed for seven hours.
What is being done:
With the spring recruitment drive in full swing, YAL chapters across the country are taking the opportunity to spread rhetoric regarding First Amendment rights. This includes handing out pocket-sized Constitutions, hosting First Amendment debates and the ever-popular free speech balls.
Ridiculously large beach balls serve as "free speech balls" and encourage the student body to participate in free speech discussions by allowing students to write whatever they want on the balls. Amidst the jokes and memes, some students will take the opportunity to write comments to one another and debate the merits of free speech. All in all, it's a fun activity for YAL members and the student body.
In short, the "National Fight for Free Speech Campaign" is not asking students to be antagonistic or cruel to their fellow student body. Rather, they merely wish to ensure students have the right to say what they wish and to raise awareness of the issue of free speech on campus. YAL believes that forcing students to accept that free speech can be “rightly banned” through speech codes leads them to be more accepting of government censorship or moral conformity, which is dangerous in a free society. As FIRE states,
- "A nation that does not educate in freedom will not survive in freedom, and will not even know when it has lost it."
To see how "free" your campus is, visit this link.
Lead Image: Young Americans for Liberty at UNC-Chapel Hill