Tags: Education | fire | private | public

148 Colleges, Universities Restrict Speech Freedoms

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April of this year saw demonstrators, sharing opposing views, arguing during a rally in Berkeley, Calif., near the University of California, Berkeley campus. The purpose was to show support for free speech, while condemning the views of Ann Coulter and her supporters. (Marcio Jose Sanchez/AP)

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Tuesday, 29 August 2017 10:56 AM Current | Bio | Archive

Freedom of speech has been one of America’s core values since long before the nation won its independence, and it was enshrined in the very First Amendment to the United States Constitution.

Today, however, a number of colleges and universities are challenging the right to freedom of speech. According to the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), 148 colleges and universities "maintain severely restrictive, 'red light'speech codes that clearly and substantially prohibit constitutionally protected speech." That figure represents 33 percent of the 446 institutions whose speech codes were reviewed by FIRE.[1]

Another 263 colleges and universities (59 percent ) earned a Yellow Light rating. FIRE defines a "yellow light institution" as one that "maintains policies that could be interpreted to suppress protected speech or policies that, while clearly restricting freedom of speech, restrict only narrow categories of speech."[1]

Only 35 (eight percent) of the universities studied have policies that "do not seriously threaten campus expression." FIRE gives these schools its highest rating: Green Light status.

While the data shows a significant level of speech restriction, recent trends have shown a move in the direction of free speech. As recently as two years ago, 49 percent of schools had Red Light speech codes (down to 33 percent today). Also, eight schools have changed policies to earn Green Light status over the past year. That came on top of five other schools moving to free speech policies during the 2015 to 2016 school year.

FIRE notes an important distinction between private and public colleges. Public schools are constitutionally required to allow free speech. Private universities, however, "possess their own right to free association, which allows them to prioritize other values above the right to free speech if they wish to do so." If a private school chooses to restrict freedom of speech, FIRE encourages them to do so openly and disclose that fact to prospective students.

While FIRE is critical of speech codes, proponents argue that these policies help foster more tolerant and respectful learning environments for students.[1]

State

Green Light

Yellow Light

Red Light

Alabama

10

4

Alaska

2

1

Arizona

1

2

Arkansas

4

California

34

7

Colorado

1

8

2

Connecticut

5

2

D.C.

4

Delaware

1

1

Florida

2

8

3

Georgia

8

2

Hawaii

1

1

Idado

1

3

Illinois

1

4

9

Indiana

3

11

2

Iowa

3

1

Kansas

1

3

1

Kentucky

2

5

3

Louisiana

3

7

Maine

4

3

Maryland

1

2

1

Massachusetts

11

13

Michigan

10

5

Minnesota

6

4

Mississippi

2

2

2

Missouri

6

1

Montana

3

1

Nebraska

1

Nevada

2

New Hampshire

1

2

1

New Jersey

4

6

New Mexico

2

1

New York

2

12

11

North Carolina

8

9

2

North Dakota

2

Ohio

1

11

3

Oklahoma

2

2

Oregon

1

2

1

Pennsylvania

4

14

12

Rhode Island

2

1

South Carolina

4

South Dakota

2

2

Tennessee

1

4

2

Texas

12

6

Utah

1

2

Vermont

1

2

Virginia

3

11

2

Washington

3

2

West Virginia

2

Wisconsin

5

2

Wyoming

1

Total

35

263

148

Percentage of schools rated

7.85%

58.97%

33.18%

Footnotes:

  1. Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, "Spotlight on Speech Codes 2017," accessed August 28, 2017

Scott Rasmussen’s Number of the Day is published by Ballotpedia. Each weekday, Scott Rasmussen’s Number of the Day explores interesting and newsworthy topics at the intersection of culture, politics, and technology.

 Scott Rasmussen is a Senior Fellow for the Study of Self-Governance at the King’s College in New York and an Editor-At-Large for Ballotpedia, the Encyclopedia of American Politics. His most recent book, "Politics Has Failed: America Will Not," was published by the Sutherland Institute in May.To read more of his reports — Click Here Now.

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Freedom of speech has been one of America’s core values since long before the nation won its independence, and it was enshrined in the very First Amendment of the United States Constitution.
fire, private, public
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2017-56-29
Tuesday, 29 August 2017 10:56 AM
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