Faithandthelaw's Blog

The law as it relates to Christians and their free exercise of religion

Universities and Colleges Speech Codes: ‘Anything you say can and will be used against you…’

Posted by faithandthelaw on April 9, 2010


What’s at Stake on the University Campus?
·   Whether students with beliefs that don’t agree with the prevailing orthodoxy of university elites will be free to participate in the campus marketplace of ideas without fear of punishment because of unconstitutional policies.
·   Whether the campus is to be open to free speech and lively debate or shut down by campus officials with the unlimited power to silence “unapproved” opinions.
·   Whether public universities will continue to enforce broad prohibitions on student speech merely because some might be “offended” by another’s ideas.
·   Whether the many universities under Third Circuit jurisdiction will continue to defy these decisions by refusing to alter their unconstitutional policies.


COLUMBIA, Tenn. — On behalf of students at five universities and colleges in Delaware, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania, the Alliance Defense Fund sent letters Thursday to inform the schools of the need to revise restrictive “speech codes” on their books that do not comport with a ruling from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 3rd Circuit. That ruling, in another ADF case, DeJohn v. Temple University, determined that such restrictions on the free speech of public university students are unconstitutional.

Other schools within the 3rd Circuit are also not in compliance with the ruling. The five letters sent Thursday are the first in a series of letters that ADF plans to send to schools throughout the region.

“Christian students shouldn’t fear discrimination or censorship by university officials simply for expressing their beliefs,” said ADF Legal Counsel Jeremy Tedesco. “The 3rd Circuit has ruled that the kinds of ‘speech codes’ we see at these universities are unconstitutional primarily because they give officials an easy-to-abuse enforcement mechanism to punish any speech that they may decide is ‘offensive.’ These policies need to be revised to respect student free speech rights that are protected by the First Amendment.”

ADF together with Randall Wenger, Leonard Brown, and Demetrios Stratis–three of more than 1,600 attorneys in the ADF alliance–sent letters to Rutgers University, Delaware State University, Cheyney University of Pennsylvania, Indiana University of Pennsylvania, and Westmoreland County Community College.

Some of the policies that are open to abuse border on the absurd, such as a “prohibited conduct” policy at Rutgers University that considers “harassment” to be something as minor as “communications…likely to cause annoyance.” The university also encourages students to report other students involved in “bias incidents,” which are investigated by the school’s Bias Prevention Education Committee, chaired by the director of the Office for Social Justice Education and LGBT Communities. The committee “addresses the University’s ‘Policy Against Verbal Assault, Defamation, and Harassment’ by monitoring the campus for bias incidents.” The university can then “reprimand, adjudicate persons who perpetrate bias acts.”

“Apparently, anything you say can and will be used against you,” said Wenger. “These kinds of rules regulating student speech effectively eliminate student speech. They are unconstitutional, and the 3rd Circuit ruling says such policies have to go.”

ADF is working with the Leadership Institute and Young America’s Foundation to protect free speech for students at public universities. 

ADF is a legal alliance of Christian attorneys and like-minded organizations defending the right of people to freely live out their faith. Launched in 1994, ADF employs a unique combination of strategy, training, funding, and litigation to protect and preserve religious liberty, the sanctity of life, marriage, and the family.

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