This Inauguration Day, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) has sent President Barack Obama an open letter requesting that, as a constitutional lawyer and the leader of the nation's executive branch, he and his administration join the fight against college and university speech codes that are infringing on the rights of millions of our nation's college students.
"Millions of American students are being taught that colleges have the power to censor and punish speech that the Bill of Rights protects," Greg Lukianoff, FIRE's president, said. "Failing to educate an entire generation about our constitutional ideals of liberty—and, still worse, actually teaching students that they have a duty to censor opinions with which they disagree—means that it will not be long before these illiberal attitudes result in severe consequences for our Republic."
FIRE's letter informed President Obama that "despite ten federal court decisions unequivocally striking down campus speech codes on First Amendment grounds from 1989 to 2008, the number of unconstitutional restrictions on campus speech actually has dramatically increased during that time." FIRE's detailed study, Spotlight on Speech Codes 2009: The State of Free Speech on Our Nation's Campuses, found that 77% of public colleges and universities maintain speech codes that fail to pass constitutional muster.
FIRE also pointed out that public universities frequently punish protected expression despite being forbidden to do so by the First Amendment.
This is not an abstraction. It's a very real threat to our liberty.