Free Speech on College Campus: A Thing of the Past?

The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) has reported that nearly 60% of college campuses in 2013 substantially abridged the First Amendment free speech rights of faculty and students. Traditionally, we’ve thought of college as the place where young people can explore new ideas, express themselves freely, and wrestle with tough questions. But the price of a politically correct society is oppression, and we’re seeing that oppression nowhere worse than college campuses. The Wall Street Journal recently reported that, “Fire surveyed 427 public and private four-year colleges and says it found 250 speech codes that are facially unconstitutional. These campus policies take such a broad view of speech as “harassment” that any controversial viewpoint is potentially punishable.”

The report reveals the worst campus in America for free speech – Troy University in Alabama: “Troy’s code of conduct prohibits any comments or conduct consisting of words or actions that are unwelcome or offensive to a person in relation to sex, race, age, religion, national origin, color, marital status, pregnancy, or disability or veteran’s status.”

Keep in mind that speech codes define “offensive” completely based on the accusers subjective feeling. “Many schools also limit student expression to laughably small “free-speech zones,”which often must be reserved weeks or months in advance and after navigating labyrinthine rules.”

The Journal ends it’s report with: “Colleges ought to be beacons of free inquiry, but too many continue to punish politically incorrect speech.”

Two things to think about:

1. This should be the moment for private, Christian universities to boldly separate themselves philosophically from these restrictive state universities and support free speech. Even when it goes against the principles the university may have been founded on, only vibrant discussion and debate will keep our ideas in the forefront of the cultural conversation.

2. Back at these state schools, what are the implications for religious expression? How do Christian students adapt to such restrictions? When will it be against the law to share your faith with another student?

Worth thinking about…

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Phil Cooke
Phil Cooke is the founder and CEO of Cooke Pictures in Burbank, California ( he helps church, ministry, and nonprofit organizations engage the culture more effectively. He's a filmmaker, media consultant, and author of "Unique: Telling Your Story in the Age of Brands and Social Media."