For more than two decades, speech codes—policies on college campuses that limit what and where students may engage in free expression—have been a constant problem. First struck down (in the modern era of political correctness, anyway) 25 years ago in the case of Doe v. Michigan, speech codes have nevertheless hung on and miseducated a generation of students about freedom while robbing them of their basic rights. The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE, where I work) has spent its 15 years of existence fighting these codes, systematically classifying them, and engaging in public advocacy aimed at convincing colleges to do the right thing and get rid of them. While we’ve been winning, the fight has been slow. That’s why FIRE this week launched the “Stand Up For Speech” Litigation Project, bringing four federal lawsuits in a single day against schools with unconstitutional speech codes. The schools are Iowa State, Ohio University, Chicago State, and Citrus College (Calif.). More lawsuits are planned in the coming weeks and months.
FIRE has much more about this in our press release, and a whole website dedicated to showing how speech codes have been and are being struck down at standupforspeech.com, but it’s important to note that FIRE is doing this not because we love being in court (we don’t) but because the incentive structure was all wrong—colleges were more afraid of offended students’ complaints than they were respectful of their Constitutional responsibilities. (I have more about this in my Washington Post op-ed.) FIRE aims to change that. As long as the First Amendment is seen as optional by our nation’s public colleges and universities, attempts to change the culture on campus from one of repression to one of freedom are likely to be in vain.