Phi Beta Cons

A Welcome Win for the First Amendment

The momentum has been running strongly against free speech on American campuses for years, with obsessions about “microaggressions” and “hate speech” and the claimed right not to be offended ascendant. But when speech infringements are challenged, judges usually toss them out, as happened recently at Waubonsee Community College in Illinois.

The school’s “anti-bias” regulations were invoked to prohibit a group called HOME (Heterosexuals Organized for a Moral Environment) from distributing leaflets on campus. Judge Robert Gettelman found the rules to be in violation of the First Amendment, as well as inconsistent with its purported stance in favor of content neutrality. In his decision, the judge wrote, “Reliance on WCC’s anti-discrimination policy to bar plaintiffs from leafletting controverts defendant’s argument that the decision to reject plaintiffs’ request was content-neutral. Instead, the content of plaintiffs’ speech…was the precise basis for WCC’s decision.”

Inside Higher Ed has the story here.

The best approach for any college to take with regard to the distribution of leaflets that some people on campus dislike, no matter what their substance, is to allow individuals to hand them out — and then get discouraged when the vast majority of students either decline to take them or glance at them and then throw the leaflets away.  Now, some lawyers have pocketed needless fees, court time has been wasted, and HOME gets to claim to be knights in shining First Amendment armor. When will college officials learn that they should (and must) leave speech free?

George Leef — George Leef is the director of research for the John William Pope Center for Higher Education Policy.

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