College Officials Tell Students: You May Speak Freely As Long As It’s Within Our (Tiny) Speech Zone
Hostility to free speech has become a salient characteristic of American college campuses. Speech codes that make it dangerous for students (or anyone else) to say things that might be regarded as offensive or “harassing” are all too common — even though the codes have been found to violate the First Amendment when challenged in court.
Another means of limiting free speech that college officials have used is the “free speech zone” tactic. That allows them to claim that they aren’t against students exercising their First Amendment rights, but are merely imposing a “reasonable” regulation on them. Policies limiting free speech only to small zones on campus are distressingly common. The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) has concluded that roughly one in six colleges and universities have them.
Do officials at our colleges and universities really believe that students must be penned into a tiny zone where free speech is authorized – or is it that they only want certain kinds of free speech to be restricted? A new case raises that question.