Associate Attorney General Rachel Brand wrote last month about the ways that college campuses are suppressing free speech and what the Trump-Sessions Department of Justice is doing to protect students' First Amendment rights:
These restrictions take a variety of forms. For example, speech codes at many colleges ban speech that is “offensive,” a subjective standard that allows college administrators to arbitrarily ban speech they find disagreeable. For example, Georgia Gwinnett College stopped a student from speaking about his religious faith because it “disturbed the comfort of persons” – even after he had gotten a permit from the school to speak.
Other schools claim they allow free speech but impose so many rules and procedures that it is almost impossible for speakers to reach an audience. Pierce College in Los Angeles, for example, limited students’ “free speech” to a space the size of a couple parking spots and required a permit to speak even there. At a community college in Michigan, a student was arrested and jailed for handing out copies of the U.S. Constitution because they didn’t have a permit.
The U.S. Department of Justice is not standing on the sidelines while public universities violate students’ constitutional rights – we are backing free speech lawsuits against universities that violate the First Amendment. Thursday, we are filing a brief supporting a group of Berkeley University students who allege that the University’s policy imposing stricter rules on controversial speakers violates the First Amendment. This is the third suit in which we have filed such a brief, and it will not be the last.
Defending the fundamental constitutional rights of all Americans is a core part of the Department’s mission, and defending free speech rights is particularly important. Free speech is not only a fundamental right, but, as James Madison said, the “effectual guardian of every other right.” Free speech enables citizens to advocate for all their other civil rights and is the single most powerful bulwark against government tyranny. This is perhaps why our Founders protected it in the very first amendment in our Bill of Rights. It is also why the Department of Justice is working so hard to protect it - free speech is too important for the Department of Justice not to speak on its behalf.
As Ms. Brand notes, it is ironic and sad that colleges and universities, where students should be exposed to and challenged by a broad range of ideas as they hone their thinking and skills, are where free speech rights are being systematically suppressed by liberal college administrators. We are grateful to the Trump-Sessions DOJ for recognizing and addressing this serious threat to students' constitutional rights.