Benjamin Franklin once said, “Without freedom of thought, there can be no such thing as wisdom; and no such thing as public liberty, without freedom of speech.” Indeed, free speech is a large block upon which this nation was first constructed, and remains a hard staple of America today; and in few places is that freedom more often utilized than on a college campus. However, there are limitations to our constitutional liberties on campus and they, most frequently, manifest themselves in the form of free speech zones, hate speech and poor university policy. Most school codes are designed to protect students, protect educators and to promote a stable, non-disruptive and non-threatening learning environment. However, students’ verbal freedom becomes limited via “free speech zones.” Free Speech Zones are areas allocated for the purpose of free speech on campus. These zones bypass our constitutional right to freedom of speech by dictating where and when something can be said, but not what can be said. Many college campuses restrict free speech solely to these areas, meaning that the rest of campus is not open for expression.
The purpose of this paper is to explore the topic of freedom of speech and free speech zones on college campuses. This paper will answer the questions: Why have so many Universities who protect academic freedom, retreat into fear of freedom? Are school officials afraid of debate and disagreement? Are they trying to keep people (outside the zone) from hearing words that may offend someone? These questions will be answered through analyses of previous court cases, journal articles and news articles.
Free speech at public universities and colleges is the most clear and the most contradictory of constitutional principles. Public universities are particularly rich grounds for conflict over matters of speech. They bring together persons with often strongly held yet contradictory views. But the issue of free expression on campus goes beyond speech codes and involves a host of other matters (Hall, 2002).
Legally, college campuses are considered to be public forums where free speech activities have always been allowed. “Over the years, courts have ruled that college officials may set up reasonable rules to regulate the ‘time, place and manner” that the free speech can occur, as long as the rules are “content neutral,’ meaning they apply equally to all sides of issues” (Fisher, 2008). Speech codes and free speech zones on campus do exist for many reasons: many of the causes or topics that students or others looking to interact with students take up are controversial and can frequently take on less of an academic or social justice overtone and more of a hateful one. Hate speech is the greatest threat to freedom of speech on college campuses, and the limitations colleges and universities put on student’s verbal freedoms are largely in place as efforts to avoid it. Religion, in particular, is a hot topic on campuses and it has an...