More Public Scrutiny of Mississippi Speech Codes in the Wake of Hinds Case
August 25, 2010
by Jaclyn Hall
Nearly a month after FIRE's victory at Hinds Community College, the case is still reverberating in news coverage across the country.
Locally, The Bolivar Commercial of Cleveland, Mississippi, published a biting editorial condemning Hinds and other Mississippi colleges for violating students' First Amendment rights. The editorial was also reprinted in the Hattiesburg American (Hattiesburg, Mississippi). It opens:
Schools need to learn that all America is a free-speech zone.
Let's see if we got this straight. Mississippi's universities and colleges teach the principles of American government, don't they?
Well then, why don't they realize that freedom of speech is a basic right that belongs to everybody—even the lowliest freshmen on their campuses.
See, it says right here in the very First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution that government shall make no law abridging the freedom of speech. And as the late Justice Hugo Black once explained to those who are rather dense, "No means no."
So then what is it our erudite institutions of higher learning don't understand about the word "no"—the "n" or the "o"?
In addition to the Hinds case, The Bolivar Commercial highlights absurd policies at other schools, including Jackson State University and the University of Mississippi (Ole Miss):
Unfortunately, the college isn't the only public institution in Mississippi that didn't get the word about the 218-year-old First Amendment.
Old Miss bristles at students using speech like "I hate Southern Miss." Jackson State students could even be punished for unsolicited flirting, and most of the campuses' students could find themselves in hot water for speaking freely about public issues, like abortion, outside so-called "free-speech zones."
Apparently those schools are unaware of the fact all of America is "a free-speech" zone, and the courts have backed that important concept.
This criticism echoes Elizabeth Crisp's attention to Mississippi's speech codes in her recent Clarion-Ledger article—featuring analysis by FIRE's Adam Kissel—which Will blogged on the Torch last week. Her laundry list of the absurd, the vague, and the overbroad includes even more of the state's public colleges:
Jackson State students could be punished for unsolicited flirting.
The University of Southern Mississippi's student handbook restricts "expression of profanity, which exceeds the normal standards of decency prevailing in the general Hattiesburg community at large," which could set up a situation like the one at Hinds.
Alcorn State bans "excessive physical annoyance" by anyone on campus or at any Alcorn-related event—meaning rowdy football fans could be accused of harassment under some interpretations.
The University of Mississippi's Internet usage policy bans any any "hateful" communication.
You can check out FIRE's Spotlight ratings for Mississippi schools here.
Also, the Associated Press wire picked up Crisp's story, which has since been published by news outlets around the country including the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, the Westport News (Connecticut), the Laurel Leader Call (Mississippi), the Montgomery Advertiser (Alabama), and the Sun-Herald of Biloxi, Mississippi, among others.
The national scrutiny of Mississippi's speech codes will hopefully inspire (or shame) Hinds, Ole Miss, and the rest to revise their unconstitutional policies. Their possible confusion over "n" or "o" aside, bad press is a language that every university administrator understands.