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College does not allow true free speech

This opinion piece was written in response  to the article “Freedom of Speech Battles Against Terrorism,” published on Jan. 28, 2015.

By Daniel Worts

The key part of free speech, and the one most people seem to miss, is highlighted here — that true free speech means those who offend you most are granted the same voice as your own, something which I believe the College does not follow.

The College does not abide by this credo and severely restricts some forms of protected speech. I would highlight the “Policy Prohibiting Discrimination in the Workplace/Educational Environment” as being of particular concern, with parts being blatantly unconstitutional.

The policy is a zero-tolerance one, with goals to prohibit discrimination or harassment based upon defined, protected categories such as race, sex and religion. Violations of the policy include telling jokes pertaining to one or more protected categories and generalized, gender-based remarks and comments.

Under these rules, it is a violation of policy to distribute copies of “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” or the Bible. They also forbid blonde jokes and the use of a woman in a bikini as one’s desktop background, in addition to “checking someone out.” This policy draws no distinction between truly hateful slurs and social or political commentary or jokes.

Clearly, it is extremely broad, so much so that normal interactions can be called into question. As it stands, our free speech only goes as far as the most easily offended student permits, and that is a serious problem.

This is the same line of reasoning that led the Supreme Court to find it constitutionally protected to burn the United States flag when they said, “If there is a bedrock principle underlying the First Amendment, it is that the government may not prohibit the expression of an idea simply because society finds the idea itself offensive or disagreeable.”

When did campuses move so far from fostering conversation, controversial or not?

A recent satire piece by Omar Mahmood at the University of Michigan lost him his writing job with the school’s paper under the same type of speech policy the College has.

The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education gives the College a “red light” — the worst possible evaluation for speech policies on college campuses. The College needs to embrace our constitutionally protected free speech rights and revise this policy, among others, as well as to rewrite time, place and manner restrictions on free speech.

This will enable a significantly narrower scope of enforcement, toning down the administration’s carte blanche regulation of student demonstrations.

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