Should States Invest in Universities That Violate Basic Rights?

Today, college and university students are facing a crisis involving their basic rights.

For decades, the highest courts of America have recognized that the Constitution broadly permits the freedom to express one’s opinions. However, this basic right that is absolutely fundamental to democracy is under attack. The right to free speech is the first and most fundamental civil liberty. It enables us to engage in social discourse and provide input on government decisions. No society that compromises free speech will ever be truly free.

The thesis of this article is simple. Lawful expression ought to be protected on college and university campuses that receive state funding.

The Supreme Court has constantly upheld the basic principle: “It is axiomatic that the government may not regulate speech based on its substantive content or the message it conveys.” Rosenberger v. Rector and Visitors of University of Virginia, 515 U.S. 819, 828 (1995). In other words, government agencies are not allowed to restrict what a person says. The only proper restrictions are on how a person expresses their opinion. If students are allowed to post to a public bulletin board, all student communications regardless of content or viewpoint must be allowed.

These prohibited restrictions are called ‘content-based restrictions’ because they control the content of what a person says. Federal courts have not minced words when condemning this type of restriction, explicitly holding that “Content-based restrictions are presumptively invalid.” Roberts v. Haragan, 346 F.Supp.2d 853, 867 (ND Tex. 2004). According to the ACLU, “The First Amendment to the Constitution protects speech no matter how offensive its content. Restrictions on speech by public colleges and universities amount to government censorship, in violation of the Constitution.” Countless federal cases have held that only restrictions that pass the highest standards of scrutiny are permitted.

Speech codes created by university officials pose a threat to our rights protected by the Constitution. In many cases, these speech codes go far beyond the bounds of prudence, and enter the area of unconstitutionality. According to a study done earlier this year by the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), over 90% of America’s universities have speech codes that are either unconstitutional on their face or are phrased unconstitutionally vaguely.  Many of these schools accept public funding.

The problem is clear. American taxpayers are funding colleges and universities that actively deny basic rights to their students.

The solution is likewise clear. States have a responsibility to ensure that the colleges they invest in do not violate the rights of that state’s citizens. Consequently, states should withdraw all state investments in any college that fails to cease unconstitutionally restricting free speech. The federal government should also take the same steps.

Colleges and universities should certainly be allowed to use basic constitutional restrictions, but they’ve demonstrated their willingness to go far beyond what the Constitution permits. According to research from FIRE cited earlier, many of our colleges and universities have speech codes that are blantantly unconstitutional. They openly restrict the content and viewpoint of speech. Others have speech codes that are so vague that they can be and are enforced in an unconstitutional manner. When this happens, the college or university should be cut off from public funding.

Almost a century ago, Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes made the famous statement: “if there is any principle of the Constitution that more imperatively calls for attachment than any other it is the principle of free thought-not free thought for those who agree with us but freedom for the thought that we hate.” U.S. v. Schwimmer, 279 U.S. 644, 655 (1929). Holmes recognized that its not enough to protect only the speech we like – free speech is meaningless unless we’re willing to also protect speech with content we disagree with.

In the words of the ACLU: “How much we value the right of free speech is put to its severest test when the speaker is someone we disagree with most. Speech that deeply offends our morality or is hostile to our way of life warrants the same constitutional protection as other speech because the right of free speech is indivisible: When we grant the government the power to suppress controversial ideas, we are all subject to censorship by the state.”

If we are unwilling to act to defend our liberties, we are complicit in the erosion of our liberties. We certainly have an obligation to protect the rights of university and college students, but if we fail to make a stand on this issue, we also compromise the integrity of our own rights.

America was built on the principle that every person should have the freedom to express their opinions freely. Our policies should uphold that fundamental founding principle, rather than encouraging its erosion. We have to act on this issue before it’s too late.

Jeremy Wang is a scholar of law with Oak Brook College of Law, having completed three years of doctorate-level study.

Thoughts on Trump’s Inaugural Address

Today, Trump was inaugurated as the 45th President of the United States.

The ceremonies were meh. Everyone knew what was going to happen ahead of time – who was going to pray, who was going to read Scripture, who was going to sing and play music.

The real attraction was Trump’s inaugural address. America was eager to hear the vision Trump would offer for our nation. Trump’s address started and closed with appeals to national unity, sandwiching more policy-oriented statements. Let’s take a moment and unpack exactly what he said. Continue reading →

A Comprehensive List of Every Trump Flip and Flop since Election Day

America has put Trump into the Oval Office. It’s now on us to hold Trump accountable, and keep abreast of what he says and does. We owe it to America and our posterity to do our part as engaged and informed citizens.

This post is an effort to do so. If Trump makes a campaign promise, then reneges on it, that’s something the people of America deserve to know.  Continue reading →

Don’t Forget the Rest of Your Ballot

Early voting began on Friday in Washington, and ballots should start showing up in your mailbox in the next few days.

This year, the presidential race has been brutal and nasty. I’m personally backing a third party candidate, but I know many are seriously considering leaving the President and Vice President slots on their ballot blank. I sympathize with them, even though I don’t fully understand their choice.

Regardless of where you stand on the presidential election, though, one thing should be indisputable for all American voters, and that is that the down ballot matters.

The message of this post is simple – don’t forget the rest of your ballot. Vote the down ballot, and get informed about the down ballot. Continue reading →

LIVE BLOG: October 19, 2016 Presidential Debate

Tonight, Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton will face off in the final official presidential debate of the 2016 election.

This debate could prove critical for Trump and Clinton, but even more is at stake for the entire nation. A major misstep by Clinton in this debate could dramatically erode her gains from the last few weeks, whilst a major blunder by Trump could seal Clinton’s victory in November.

I will be live-blogging my reactions to the debate on this post, starting at 9pm EST (6pm PST).

The debate itself is free to watch – a live stream provided by YouTube and NBC is embedded below for your convenience.

Header photo originally by ABC News. Used under the fair use doctrine for nonprofit educational purposes.

LIVE BLOG: October 4, 2016 Vice Presidential Debate

Tonight, Senator Tim Kaine and Governor Mike Pence will face off in the first Vice Presidential debate of the 2016 election cycle. They are the Democratic and Republican candidates for Vice President of the United States.

They both face the same difficult task – persuading disaffected and undecided voters to join their side and vote for their ticket. Pence has the dubious distinction of running alongside Trump – he therefore has the responsibility for salvaging Trump’s disasters last week. Kaine has the unenviable job of defending Clinton and her policies from Pence’s attacks.

I will be live-blogging my reactions to the debate on this post, starting at 9pm EST (6pm PST).  Continue reading →

LIVE BLOG: September 26, 2016 Washington Gubernatorial Debate

Photo by Steve Ringman / The Seattle Times. Used under the fair use doctrine for nonprofit educational purposes.

Tonight, Bill Bryant and Jay Inslee will face off in the second debate of the 2016 Washington gubernatorial election, immediately following the presidential debate earlier that night.

I will be live-blogging my reactions to the debate on this post, starting at 8pm PST.

The debate itself is free to watch – a live stream provided by MyNorthwest.com is linked to below for your convenience.

WATCH: Washington state governor’s debate

LIVE BLOG: September 26, 2016 Presidential Debate

Photo by Gage Skidmore and Krassotkin. Used under the CC BY-SA 3.0 license.

Tonight, Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton will finally face off in the first official presidential debate of the 2016 election. This debate could prove critical for Trump and Clinton, but even more is at stake for the entire nation.

I will be live-blogging my reactions to the debate on this post, starting at 9pm EST (6pm PST).

The debate itself is free to watch – a live stream provided by YouTube and NBC is embedded below for your convenience.