BLOGWanted: Safe Space for Free Speech on College Campuses

By Marissa Mayer Posted on: | December 09, 2015

Whoever thought that free speech would be so hard to come by on college campuses?

With all the hype around "safe spaces" on campus where so-called controversial opinions aren't welcome, it's becoming harder and harder to find spaces for students to exercise their constitutionally protected right to free speech.

The most recent example comes from Phoenix, Arizona, where Brittany Mirelez, a political science student at Paradise Valley Community College (PVCC), is fighting back after she was told she violated campus policy when she set up a table in the school's speech zone to talk with students about starting a Young Americans for Liberty group on campus and hand out copies of the U.S. Constitution. 

Why? Because she didn't have permission to be there.

Permission.
To be in the speech zone.
Exercising her free speech.  
And handing out copies of the Constitution.

I apologize if your brain just exploded, but the sad reality is that too many college campuses have become an enemy (intentional or not) of the very freedom they are supposed to represent.

“Colleges are supposed to be a place where ideas are freely shared, not gagged,” said ADF Senior Counsel Tyson Langhofer. “A college short-circuits its own purpose when it places its own restrictive speech rules above the freedoms that the First Amendment guarantees to students and all Americans.”

Alliance Defending Freedom has filed a federal lawsuit on Brittany's behalf arguing that the college’s policy unconstitutionally discourages protected student speech and disables the ability of students to speak freely on campus about recent and unfolding events. It asks for the court to strike down the public expression policy and issue a declaration that the college violated Mirelez’s constitutionally protected freedom of speech.

FreeSpeechPVCC 2

“You don’t wake up and say I kind of want to sue my school to get rid of something,” Mirelez told The Daily Signal, “but it’s gotta happen.”

According to the community college's Guidelines for Public Expression on Campus, the designated speech zone where students are allowed to exercise their free speech is nothing more than a single walkway between two buildings, which is just about 0.26% of the entire campus. This is somewhat ironic, considering that as part of the school's values listed on its website, PVCC says that it "promotes the free exchange of ideas and opinion."

If PVCC truly wants to champion free speech and the free exchange of ideas, they can start by getting rid of their unconstitutional public expression policy and welcome and encourage students, like Brittany, to share their ideas. Otherwise, they're just teaching the next generation that censorship is a normal part of American life, and I'm pretty sure those copies of the Constitution Brittany was handing out say otherwise. 

Marissa Mayer

Senior Web Writer

Marissa Mayer is an Arizona native who fell in love with the written word at a young age.

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