A: Through both direct and indirect policies. Directly, there are speech codes, free speech zones, and restrictions on invited speakers that infringe the First Amendment freedoms that students should enjoy. Speech codes, which typically use civility requirements to create “safe spaces,” are a major tool that universities use to restrict speech. Free speech zones restrict the places on campus where students may speak freely. In addition, the way in which colleges regulate outside speakers can also be problematic, giving opponents of the speech a “heckler’s veto” and imposing burdensome security and financial requirements—especially when disproportionately imposed on outside speakers from one side of the ideological spectrum.
Indirectly, “bias reporting” protocols encourage students who overhear “offensive” or “biased” speech to report it anonymously to the university. University officials then may investigate the incident and meet with the student in question. These investigations by university officials create a “chilling effect” on students’ willingness to exercise their right to free speech.
Q: Are you focused solely on enforcing the Free Speech Clause of the First Amendment, or will you encompass all forms of speech in expression, association, and the press on campus?
A: All forms. We are committed to protecting the freedom of speech on campus in whatever form that may take.
Q: What does “chilling” mean?
A: Speech is “chilled” when individuals refrain from speaking because they fear they might violate a law or regulation. Chilling effects generally occur when a law is either too broad or too vague. For example, a college might have a student handbook that punishes speech that is “unwelcome,” “demeaning,” “discriminatory,” or creates an “intimidating,” “hostile,” or “offensive” environment. Because it is impossible to predict how people will feel, students refrain from speaking at all.
Q: What kind of speech do you want to defend?
A: All speech. Left, right, popular, unpopular – it doesn’t matter. We want to defend the rights of speakers. And just as important, we want to defend the rights of listeners too.
Q: How will you decide what lawsuits to bring?
A: By listening to our members and carefully monitoring schools. We will act to protect students from schools that try to stop them from expressing their views.
Q: If I think my rights have been violated, what should I do?
A: You can contact us through our website on the “Share Your Story” portal or reach out to our President directly. Your conversation will be kept confidential.