A free speech expert at the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) said in an interview this week that millions of American students have their speech rights restricted on campus.
During an interview with Campus Reform, FIRE’s Laura Beltz made the case that American universities are adopting policies that restrict student’s First Amendment rights.
FIRE is notable for its defense of free speech and due process rights on campus, and also publishes a free speech rating guide. The guide assigns a rating to each American college and university based on their defense of free expression principles. Instituting policies and programs such as “bias incident” reporting systems can result in a lower FIRE rating.
During the interview, Beltz pointed out that significantly fewer American colleges and universities received the worst rating, a red traffic light, in 2019 than in 2009. However, many institutions still have a “yellow light” rating, which indicates that they have one or more policy that restricts student speech. In fact, FIRE’s data suggests that 90 percent of American colleges and universities have policies that restrict speech.
“Each year things are getting incrementally a bit better,” Beltz said during the interview. “Back in 2009, our report showed that 75 percent of schools were getting that worst red-light rating. So to go from 75 percent to 25 percent in a decade is a great improvement…but of course…those yellow light policies are still sticking around.”
Beltz specifically highlighted specific policies that restrict speech. Beltz emphasized the increase in “free speech zones,” a trend that Breitbart News has extensively highlighted over the past two years.
“There are a lot of policies on the books at schools that they don’t enforce a lot, like free speech zone policies, like things that say you have to get permission in advance before expressing yourself on campus,” Beltz told Campus Reform. “And I’m concerned that those policies that have been lingering around on the books…that the administrators say ‘we don’t even enforce that anyway…’ that suddenly if there’s a big controversial political protest on campus, that policy is going to be dragged out and applied against students.”
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