The speech police are alive and well at the University of Minnesota.
Over the summer, school officials released a new “gender identity” policy proposal that would require, among other things, students and faculty members to use the pronouns that their gender-nonconforming peers prefer – or face the possibility of being expelled or fired.
As Brad Polumbo writes at National Review:
On today’s college campuses, it’s taken for granted that there are infinite genders and that people can change their gender regardless of their biological sex. But not all students agree, and conservatives on campus often hold starkly divergent views on gender and sex. The idea that students should be forced to use certain words associated with ideas they oppose isn’t just oppressive — it’s blatantly unconstitutional.
Of course, the proposed policy is worded vaguely enough that it is not clear how this would be implemented. But this is not the first time that university officials have used vaguely worded policies in order to stifle the speech they don’t like.
In fact, the University of Minnesota has a track record of doing just that.
In July, Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) filed a lawsuit against the university when officials used its “Large Scale Events Policy” to restrict, relocate, and downsize an event featuring conservative speaker and author Ben Shapiro.
Five months in advance of this event, two conservative groups – Young America’s Foundation (YAF) and Students for a Conservative Voice (SCV), which is a recognized student organization – booked a large, central location on campus. These students wanted to showcase a prominent conservative like Shapiro to provide a different perspective because they sensed a lack of ideological diversity on campus.
Unfortunately, university officials proved them right.
As SCV and YAF were preparing for the event, university administrators contacted them to inform them that the event had been moved to an isolated building at the St. Paul campus and that the event capacity would be cut from 1,000 to 450. Their reasoning? Shapiro and his mainstream conservative viewpoints were “controversial” and posed too much of a security risk.
When asked for an explanation, campus officials cited the Large Scale Events Policy, which allows the university to impose restrictions on select events at the university’s sole discretion.
You might be wondering: How is controversial defined? And what qualifies as a large-scale event?
But these questions are left unanswered – leaving this policy dangerously open-ended and giving university officials the power to use it against the viewpoints they don’t like, while allowing their favored viewpoints to carry on unhindered.
Fortunately, our Constitution does not allow for this. And students do not leave behind their First Amendment right to free speech when they set foot on a university campus. The ADF Center for Academic Freedom has secured nearly 400 legal victories for campus free speech in order to make sure of that.
Allowing students to interact with a number of different viewpoints on campus, even if they disagree, might seem “controversial” to University of Minnesota officials. But it’s really just constitutional.