Two thirds of colleges maintain speech codes that violate students' First Amendment rights, according to a new report released by the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE).
According to Spotlight on Speech Codes: The State of Free Speech On Our Nations Campuses (PDF) 67 percent of public and 65 percent of private American postsecondary institutions -- out of 390 in total -- received a "red light" rating from the nonprofit organization for maintaining at least one policy that "clearly and substantially restrict[s] freedom of speech." Only 3 percent of the schools considered received "green light" ratings, which means that the "school's written policies do not pose a serious threat to free speech."
FIRE notes that while public universities are forbidden by law from infringing on first amendment rights, private universities are not - and so it only reviewed those private institutions which emphasized freedom of expression in their missions.
The report details the two ways in which institutions of higher learning violate free speech: by misinterpreting federal laws that curtail expression, like threats & intimidation, incitement, obscenity and hate speech, and by implementing policies that are in blatant disregard of First Amendment rights.
According to the report, some of the most egregious violations include policies limiting "controversial rallies," rules limiting content transmitted via e-mail, and instructions against offensive jokes and language -- especially when such language is vaguely defined.
While the percentage of schools deemed to be in violation is high, it marks a steady decrease from previous years. In 2010 the figure for public institutions was 71 percent, and 70 percent for private. According to FIRE President Greg Lukianoff, "The continued decline in the number of speech codes on campus is encouraging, but if we do not continue to guard vigilantly against restrictions on students' free speech rights, these gains could be eroded very quickly."
Check out FIRE's website for an interactive database listing violation specifics.
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