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IU’s lack of 1st Amendment Rights

You may not agree with what I am about to say, but chances are you may not even know the free speech policies that IU has because I didn’t.

When we enter as freshmen at IU, we are required to sign the Code of Students Rights and Responsibilities (referred to herein as simply “the Code”).

I am not being presumptuous here, but let’s be real — how many of us actually read it cover-to-cover? We may thumb through it for a few minutes, toss it in a drawer and then never see it again.

I would hedge my bets that there is only a one in 10 chance of us ever reading it again because we’re curious or we violated one of the policies in it and were caught. Only then do we realize there is a problem with the Code itself.

The Foundation of Individual Rights in Education, also known as FIRE, recently published a memo on the issue of the University’s policies regarding free speech.

The memo points out a lot of the vagueness and contradictions of University policy in accordance with the case law that has developed through the years regarding free speech at public universities.

First, let us define free speech. According to the Supreme Court’s definition in 1949 in Terminiello v. Chicago, “speech is often provocative and challenging ... (and) may strike at prejudices and preconceptions and have profound unsettling affects.”

IU’s definition of speech is a little different. It contains the vague term of using “civility” in regard to treating others with our speech. In another decision specifically regarding a public university, a judge deemed that “the word ‘civil’ is broad and elastic — and its reach is unpredictable” with respect to free speech.

My problem with the free speech policies in the Code, as pointed out by FIRE in the Memorandum, is not that IU is encouraging us to act with “civility” to one another but that it is requiring us.

The Supreme Court addressed speech specifically on public university campuses in the 1973 case Papish v. Board of Curators of the University of Missouri. In this case, the Court stated that “the mere dissemination of ideas — no matter how offensive to good taste — on a state university campus may not be shut off in the name alone of  ‘conventions of decency.’”  

Another major issue I take with the University’s policies on free speech is the areas designated as free-speech zones. Currently as students we are only allowed to organize protests and express freely in two areas of campus: Dunn Meadow and the Sample Gates.

Even more disheartening is the fact that the only place we can “spontaneously” assemble and express our opinions is Dunn Meadow, and we even have to register with IU to do so.

This is in direct contradiction with case law that was established by a federal judge back in 2004 in Roberts v. Haragan. The judge held with respect to a free speech zone on a public university that “to the extent the campus has park areas, sidewalks, streets or other similar common areas, these areas are public forums, at least for the university’s students, irrespective of whether the university has so designated them or not.”  

We can agree that the right to free speech is not absolute. Shouting fire in a crowded theater poses “a clear and present danger of a serious substantive evil,” as in the
Court’s test in Terminiello v. Chicago.

But if the University has policies similar to ones that have been deemed unconstitutional by the highest court in the land, then they need to be changed.

In my own opinion, the French Enlightenment thinker Voltaire had it right a few hundred years ago. He said “I do not agree with what you have to say, but I’ll defend to the death your right to say it.”


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