Is Free Speech Permitted at America’s Colleges?

Surprisingly, the majority of colleges in the United States, both public and private, restrict free speech. 

Why does this matter? 

Well, according to Soviet dissident Natan Sharansky, “the test of a free society is the ability to express opinions in the town square without fear of reprisal.” Most American colleges would not pass that test. 

A recent report by the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) shows that 55% of the 437 colleges they surveyed have “severely restrictive” policies that “clearly and substantially prohibit protected speech.” The 437 colleges include 61 private schools and 180 public schools.

Fortunately, the survey shows that there are less schools this year than seven years ago, when 75% of the colleges surveyed maintained policies which prohibited free speech.

What are the consequences of the majority of American colleges restricting free speech? College is supposed to be a time of learning, discussion, debate, diversity and a broadening view points. Like FIRE’s report notes, “The U.S. Supreme Court has called America’s colleges and universities ‘vital centers for the Nation’s intellectual life.'”When free speech is limited, the atmosphere becomes increasingly more homogenous and the opportunity for debate and learning from many different views disappears.

It should be recognized though, that with freedom of speech comes other things universities must be aware of. Anti-bullying and harassment policies are important, are in place to protect, but sometimes can encroach on the right to freedom of speech. This is a line universities must draw carefully.

To read more about this, read the recent Wall Street Journal opinion article, and check out the FIRE report. 

So you’re reading or listening to Pillars for Freedom and you have an opinion. Do you want to add something or share with us? In lieu of a comments section, we now accept Letters to the Editor, where you can share your point of view.

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