Column: Courts uphold free speech on campuses
It’s as sad as it is ironic that institutions of higher education can’t seem to understand such a basic concept as free expression.
This past month, yet another Michigan school, this time Macomb Community College, was sued for violating the speech rights of students. Campus police ticketed students for failing to obtain a required permit to demonstrate in public outdoor areas of the college.
The college has no case. Its policy is blatantly unconstitutional. The courts have made it absolutely clear in case after case that public college campuses are open to the public. Again and again, courts have had to patiently spell out to these schools that students have the right to free speech on their grounds.
“Open, outdoor areas of public campus are designated public forum as to students.” (U. of Cincinnati Young Americans for Liberty v. Williams, 2012)
“The mere fact that the University owns all the land within its boundaries does nothing to change the equation. First Amendment protections and the requisite forum analysis apply to all government-owned property; and nowhere is it more vital ... than on a public university campus ...” (Roberts v. Haragan, 2004).
The courts couldn’t be clearer, and yet school after school needs to be sued to have their anti-speech codes rescinded. Grand Valley State University just settled out of court not six months ago. There’s a pending suit against Kellogg Community College. The facts of the case are virtually the same as UCYAL v. Williams, and the same outcome is expected. The only difference is students were actually arrested — for the crime of circulating the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. Such sad irony.
The University of Michigan didn’t learn when its speech codes were struck down in 1989. The Court in Doe v. Michigan held that colleges can’t criminalize people saying what some take as “stigmatizing or victimizing.”
Today UM is hiring “bias police.” Another lawsuit waiting to happen.
A previous incident at Macomb Community College involving a different student with a different group was noted in a 2016 congressional hearing, and if MCC hadn’t heard of the scrutiny of its speech policy then, it certainly would have heard when I brought it up in Senate committee testimony three months ago.
This isn’t a curious case of mass ignorance. This is systemic hostility to free expression, and it inflicts real harm upon students.
To shelter young adults from ideas that challenge their understanding is to create immature, intolerant adults. Students of intolerant schools grow up to create intolerant workplaces.
We need free speech on campus because we need free expression in society. Since colleges evidently can’t follow the courts’ guidance, it’s time they hear from the Legislature on this.
Rep. John Reilly, R-Oakland Twp., represents Michigan’s 46th House district.