President Donald Trump signed an executive order last year to protect free speech on college campuses.
“We reject oppressive speech codes, censorship, political correctness, and every other attempt by the hard left to stop people from challenging ridiculous and dangerous ideas,” the president said. “These ideas are dangerous. Instead, we believe in free speech, including online and including on campus.”
Despite this executive action, and the First Amendment itself, conservative students are still fighting for free expression on college campuses.
For example, Sofie Salmon, a student at the University of Wisconsin at River Falls, wanted to recruit conservative students to start a club. She rolled around an oversized “free speech” ball on which students could write messages expressing themselves. According to her legal counsel, Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), Sophie didn’t block sidewalks, hinder instruction, or disrupt the educational environment. But an administrator told her she had to reserve a space and limit her speech to a public sidewalk on the edge of campus, or campus police would get involved.
ADF sent a letter to the university on Sofie’s behalf informing administrators that they could avoid a lawsuit by revising the policy to allow students to speak in public outdoor areas on campus without prior permission. ADF stated that the student tried to find the relevant policies but couldn’t, and officials didn’t reply to her emails about the policies. The legal firm wrote that “potentially-applicable policies we were able to find were not easily accessible by students through typical search terms on your website. In addition, the policies are vague and as applied to Sofie are unconstitutional.”
ADF announced this week that the school has changed its campus speech policies (emphasis added):
The new university policies state, in part, “Students shall be permitted to assemble and engage in spontaneous expressive activity.” The policies also remove the need for a student to pay for a reservation in a speech zone or to be part of an officially recognized club in order to engage in free speech. Updates appear in the Student Handbook, the Student Organization Handbook, and the Facilities Use Policy.
“Sofie shouldn’t have had to go through the experience of being threatened with having the police called on her, but we’re pleased the university has done the right thing now by eliminating the unconstitutional policies and publishing new ones that protect students’ rights,” said ADF Senior Counsel Tyson Langhofer, director of the ADF Center for Academic Freedom. “Today’s college students are our future legislators, judges, and voters. That’s why it’s so important that public universities model the First Amendment values they’re supposed to be teaching students.”
Administrators could have ended up in federal court had they not changed policies that restricted non-disruptive free expression on campus. The bias against students not aligned with campus leftism is obvious, and these students must continue to push back against attempts to suppress them.