The IUSB Vision Weblog

The way to crush the middle class is to grind them between the millstones of taxation and inflation. – Vladimir Lenin

When Universities Violate Your Rights

Posted by iusbvision on August 27, 2007

MYTH: Colleges are filled with learned people who are tolerant and informed on matters of free speech and respect the freedom of speech and conscience of others.

It is a sad reality that at many of today’s universities the free speech rights of students and faculty is violated at a frightful rate. So common is this problem that The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (thefire.org) was created to work to restore constitutionally guaranteed freedoms. There are more examples of these violations than this article could ever hope to cover, but a few can be covered.

A University of New Hampshire (UNH) student was evicted from the dorms and charged with:

“acts of dishonesty; violation of affirmative action policies; harassment; and conduct which is disorderly, lewd, and was required to meet with a psychological counselor to discuss his ‘decisions, actions, and reflections,’ and required to write a 3000-word reflection paper about the counseling session.”

What was his so called crime? He posted a satirical flyer saying that students could lose the “freshman 15” by taking the stairs. Of course, this speech, satirical or not, is constitutionally protected speech. Of course, there was no lewd conduct, just speech that UNH did not appreciate.

Fortunately, FIRE intervened and after receiving a special legal “love note” from FIRE (http://www.thefire.org/index.php/article/5006.html) UNH was motivated to realize the error in its ways and reverse itself. Bogus charges of lewd conduct or harassment to stifle constitutionally protected speech is nothing new on campus according to Greg Lukianoff, the President of FIRE (thefire.org).

The next case is from San Francisco State University, who put the College Republicans on trial for stepping on a Hezbollah (a violent terrorist group) flag during an anti-terror protest. Anyone who has taken Judge Sharp’s Constitutional Law class or Dr.  Obata’s Communications Law class knows that the Supreme Court has ruled that desecrating a flag, even the American flag, during a protest is constitutionally protected speech (Texas v. Johnson).

FIRE sent a legal love note to San Francisco State University (http://www.thefire.org/index.php/article/7810.html) reminding the university president and the administrators involved that:

“Existing First Amendment law leaves no doubt that the College Republicans’ expressive activity enjoys complete protection under the First Amendment. No reasonable person could claim otherwise. As such, your persistence in pursuing potential disciplinary sanctions against the College Republicans effectively waives immunity from liability under § 1983. To be clear, if you continue to ignore your constitutional obligations, you risk personal liability for depriving your students of their rights.”

San Francisco State University reversed itself after further pressure from FIRE and the ACLU.

IUSB is not immune from First Amendment battles either. Last year the Student Government Association took an active role in preventing a draconian and grossly illegal bulletin board speech policy from being implemented. Stay tuned readers; unfortunately IUSB is not devoid of those who have no regard for freedom of speech and conscience and the SGA is actively involved in the vigorous defense of your constitutionally protected rights.

If students have a problem, or a professor or an administrator decides that they have a problem with them, they need to come see the SGA.

“Freedom to differ is not limited to things that do not matter much. That would be a mere shadow of freedom. The test of its substance is the right to differ as to things that touch the heart of the existing order. If there is any fixed star in our constitutional constellation, it is that no official, high or petty, can prescribe what shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion, or other matters of opinion or force citizens to confess by word or act their faith therein” – West Virginia Board of Education v. Barnette.

Chuck Norton
SGA Chief Justice

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