Column: Campus free speech quashed

Ty Hicks

Apparently handing out pocket Constitutions is a crime in the state of Michigan, or at least it is on the campus of Kellogg Community College. Last fall, security officers at the Battle Creek school arrested students for doing just that. The students were advocating for the Bill of Rights as officers ironically approached them and shut down their freedom of expression. But this isn’t an isolated incident.

Free speech is a topic highly debated as of late, from concerns regarding freedom of the press and WikiLeaks, to burning the American flag, to overly sensitive college students. The reason free speech is at the center of the many issues currently debated by Americans is because it’s under attack.

At Young Americans for Liberty, I oversee cases similar to the one at Kellogg Community College on a daily basis. The incident at Kellogg reflects a larger battle across the United States, and that’s why we’ve taken this case to federal court.

College speech codes like the one found at Kellogg Community College almost never hold up in court. Their vague nature opens the floodgates for bureaucratic handling that more often than not results in bias administration. This often means discriminating against unfavorable opinions in pursuit of the personal agendas of college administrators. These policies enable some of the gravest violations of the First Amendment on America’s young minds. These speech codes rob America’s youth of freedom of thought and intellectual development.

There are a plethora of colleges whose speech policies directly violate the First Amendment, and a handful of them are in Michigan. According to the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, there are nine Michigan colleges with unconstitutional speech codes.

I experienced the effects of discriminatory speech policies while attending Central Michigan University. At my alma mater, students are restricted by bureaucratic regulations and an application process to obtain permission to express themselves freely on campus — though this right is guaranteed by our Constitution.

But students in Michigan aren’t alone. Students at Arkansas Tech University were told that their campus free speech zones “Trump the Constitution.” YAL members in Massachusetts were told to “get a permit” to petition at a public university. College administrators at Fairmont State in West Virginia demanded that students get official recognition from the University before they could clipboard on campus — to get enough sign-ups to become an official university student organization.

Why would American citizens at public, taxpayer-funded universities be required to get permission to exercise their First Amendment rights? We hope this federal lawsuit will give us an answer. After all, universities are supposed to be the beacon of light and intellectual diversity in the free world.

Ty Hicks is executive vice president at Young Americans for Liberty.