Across the nation, in universities and colleges, a debate is raging about designated freedom of speech areas on campuses. Around the country, certain colleges and universities have designated spots where students can speak their mind and share their opinion without fear of negative repercussions.
Some, however, have deemed this practice unconstitutional.
Others maintain that designated areas only for free speech are necessary for student safety, both for the protestors and passers-by. In this way, the university officials and security can keep a closer eye on the protest to make sure that nothing gets out of hand and that violence does not start.
The Highlander writes that:
The website for the University of California-Santa Barbara police department notes that, according to campus policy, “specific areas are designated for public meetings” and are reserved on a “first come, first served basis.” This rule effectively means that protesters must plan their protest far in advance — which is no doubt in place for numerous beneficial reasons, such as keeping protesters safe and protecting students’ privacy.”
On March 3, UCSB Associate Professor Mireille Miller-Young who was pregnant, saw a protesting demonstration being done by an anti-abortion group called Survivors of the Abortion Holocaust in a designated freedom of speech area. The professor became angry and argued with the students by saying that other students found their images of dead fetuses disturbing and demanded they take their signs down. The students refused, citing their right to free speech, reports The Highlander.
A struggle ensued, followed by the professor seizing and fleeing with the sign. The students chased after her to steal back their sign, but she eventually got away. One student was injured in the altercation. The protesters called for the professor’s firing by signing petitions to the university. Other students counter-petitioned in support of the professor. According to The Highlander, the professor has been charged with assault, battery, and robbery. In this instance, having a designated area for freedom of speech did not protect students’ safety.
Meanwhile, Virgina has passed a law banning college campus free speech zones, reports thefire.org. It has decided that they are unconstitutional and that freedom of speech should be allowed anywhere on campus. Before, students needed to get administrative permission far in advance to hold a protest in a free speech zone. Not only were they confined to that zone, but the administration, based on its viewpoints, could either accept or decline the students’ right to protest. Virgina has deemed this unconstitutional and a violation of the First Amendment right.
The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, or FIRE, helped the new law come to pass by petitioning Virgina’s lawmakers and the government. FIRE fights for individual and civil rights and helps connect lawmakers and journalists to the ideas of due process, academic freedom, and free speech rights. More information about FIRE can be found on thefire.org.