Speech Advocates Fighting Back

Some educators have, for years, tried to gag students who dissent from their views supporting world government, elimination of national borders and expressions some groups choose to find offensive. But the First Amendment is making a comeback.

by James P. Tucker, Jr.

More than 90 percent of college educators call themselves liberal, and, for years, they have tried to turn out students who are carbon copies of themselves. Ridiculing those who express opposing views, giving failing marks for politically incorrect comments and enforcing speech codes outlawing words a protected group may choose to find offensive have been their weapons.

But the First Amendment is making a comeback. The Department of Educations Office for Civil Rights has sent a letter to all collegesmost private schools receive some federal fundswarning against suppressing free speech.

Government anti-discrimination regulations are not intended to restrict the exercise of any expressive activities protected under the U.S. Constitution. . . . regulations and policies do not require or proscribe speech, conduct or harassment codes that impair the exercise of rights protected under the First Amendment, the letter said.

Charges of discriminatory conduct must include something beyond the mere expression of views, words, symbols or thoughts that some person finds offensive. . . . The conduct must also be considered sufficiently serious to deny or limit a

[complaining] students ability to participate in or benefit from the educational program, the letter said.

The effects are already being felt. A University of Alabama student displayed a Confederate flag on his dormitory door. The school objected. Classmates and First Amendment champions displayed a forest of Confederate flags and other symbols. The warning letter mentioned symbols as protected by the First Amendment. The school backed down.

College educators needed the First Amendment lecture provided in the letter because of their awesome ignorance, as demonstrated by surveys conducted for the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE). In asking college administrators and students about the First Amendment, the survey found that 30 percent of college educators could not identify freedom of speech as part of the First Amendment.

Only 6 percent could correctly name freedom of religion as the first freedom stated in the First Amendment.

More than 75 percent of educators did not identify right of assembly and association and 96 percent did not identify the right to petition government against grievances as part of the First Amendment.

If one thinks of the First Amendment as a foundation of American liberty, the ignorance and misunderstanding of it by administrators at our nations colleges and universities is frightening, said Alan Charles Kors, president of FIRE, which is based in Philadelphia.

FIRE is a nonprofit educational foundation devoted to free speech, individual liberty, religious freedom, the rights of conscience, legal equality, due process and academic freedom on Americas college and university campuses.

Reports FIRE:

Americas colleges and universities are, in theory, indispensable institutions in the sustenance and enhancement of critical mind, individual rights, honest inquiry, and the core values of liberty, legal equality, and dignity. Instead, they have become the enemies of those qualities and pursuits. Although there is at least an open debate about curriculum and scholarship, the partisan transformation of the university in loco parentis (the university standing in the place of parents) has occurred with surprisingly little scrutiny and criticism. That transformation, however, is particularly powerful, affecting almost all areas of student (and often faculty) life. The university in loco parentis is the location where students are most subject to the assignment of group identity, to indoctrination in the new-age radical political orthodoxies, legal inequality, to intrusion into private conscience, and to assault upon the moral reality of individual rights and responsibilities. The university in loco parentis is also the location where the real agendas of the social engineers of political correctness are most easily identified, and where they are most vulnerable to public exposure. Students can avoid the worst courses at most colleges and universities; they cannot escape the politicized university in loco parentis. Students and faculty need the protection of their individual rights; universities need to feel (and to change their behaviors in response to) the shame and liabilities of public exposure; the public and the media need to know what has occurred and is occurring daily in higher education.

The shocking results demonstrate a profound and dangerous failure to comprehend the moral and legal basis for religious liberty, says a summary of the findings by the Center for Survey Research and Analysis at the University of Connecticut.

The survey showed that students and administrators lack the most fundamental understandinglet alone appreciationof the free exercise of religion and of the deep importance that devout individuals attach to their faith, said a statement issued by FIRE.

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