Free speech zones on campus unlawful, immoral
Today across the nation, American’s rights are being violated in more ways than one. When you hear the phrase “rights violated,” one normally assumes police brutality or blatantly discriminatory laws — but this is not always the case. A public university official silencing you is also a violation of your rights. As Scarlet Knights we have the honor of attending one of the most historical universities in the world. Founded in 1766 as Queen’s College in the enlightenment of free thought during the colonial era, Rutgers University was once symbolic of a free academia. Our University was erected during a time which laid the foundation for our Constitution -- free speech, free association and free thought.
After decades of progressive policies that countless other universities have also been shackled by, free speech hardly exists. To those who perceive campus speech codes as a solution to society’s social illnesses, free speech is simply an out-of-date ideal therefore justifying said unconstitutional codes. The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, or FIRE, disagrees with this standpoint, as do I. It rates the degree of free speech on our nation’s college campuses. The Rutgers-New Brunswick campus is given a “Yellow Light” according to FIRE’s website. The criteria for this rating is vague policy language and ambiguous speech regulations that can lead to abuse by university administrations. Even worse is the “Red Light” rating received by neighboring Princeton University and rival Penn State — yikes!
Here in New Brunswick, we can do better than a yellow light rating. As students of the non-establishment Internet generation, we must demand more from the university we pay so much to attend. We are not the type to be silenced. This past Friday, the Rutgers chapter of Young Americans for Liberty held a free speech wall in between Au Bon Pain and the entrance to the College Avenue Student Center. According to official documents from the University, this is not a designated “free speech zone.”
It was about an hour into our activism when an employee at the student center addressed our apparent speech code violation. As president of the university chapter of Young Americans for Liberty, I ironically handed out Constitutions and attracted passers by to exercise their first amendment rights by writing on our wall. Meanwhile, I dealt with the threat of police intervention prompted by that student center employee who was simply doing their job. According to the University speech code, students are not permitted to exercise their first amendment rights in most areas unless they register. Yes, you read that right. One must register to exercise their inalienable rights. This is not an issue of compliance, but an issue of the need to comply -- or conform.
Although I was fortunate enough to not face the authorities that day, many others are not as lucky. FIRE defends the first amendment rights of students and faculty members on college campuses across the nation. Be it over sensibilities, political agendas and correctness, public relations issues or simply revenge, universities such as Rutgers have been suppressing speech for years. Free speech zones reflect a trend of political partisanship and groupthink in higher education.
Young Americans for Liberty at the University of Cincinnati successfully challenged its university’s free speech codes and won in court. A professor at the University of Wisconsin-Stout was censored, but won his challenge against university officials. So although we too often yield such rights to public institutions on public property, there are resources out there to help. Our university chapter of Young Americans for Liberty will courageously stand with anyone at Rutgers whose free speech rights are violated.
The existence of free speech zones is not only unconstitutional and immoral regarding human rights, but it is simply antithetical to a free society and the basis of academia. I challenge the university to immediately change their speech codes in compliance with the criteria for a “Green Light” rating by FIRE. Additionally, I urge the faculty at Rutgers to stand with us and pressure Rutgers to become a trailblazer for free speech in academia. Since the University has been in the news for unfortunate reasons as of late, a headline regarding a positive change in Rutgers policy would be a refreshing step for the community. It doesn’t matter if you’re white or black, Republican or Democrat, male or female or Muslim or atheist — everyone should always stand for free speech. Stand with us.
Matthew Boyer is a School of Arts and Sciences junior majoring in political science. He is the president of the Rutgers chapter of Young Americans for Liberty. His column, “Legalizing Life,” runs on alternate Wednesdays.