This Month in FIRE History: FIRE Issues Statement Regarding Censorship of ‘Partisan’ Speech on Campus
October 26, 2005
It is deeply distressing and unfortunate that universities (and even students) are attempting to stifle political speech in the weeks before a Presidential election. If the First Amendment means anything at all, it means that speech must be free to influence the political process in this country. The founders of our nation considered the Bill of Rights essential because they recognized that true democracy would be impossible if one were not free to advocate political positions, whether they be mainstream, revolutionary, conservative, or anywhere else on the ideological spectrum. It is hardly an argument that speech should be censored because it might be used to change a person’s point of view so close to an upcoming election. Speech often serves its greatest societal function when it is used to change minds through reasoned debate and discussion. The concern of college administrators should not be the maintenance of an artificially-imposed “balance” but instead the protection of open discussion, expression, and candor.…[I]t is critical to remind administrators that students do not abandon their Constitutional rights when they enter the university gates, and that partisan political speech does not enjoy lesser constitutional protection than speech that advances cultural, educational, or religious purposes. To the contrary, political speech is considered the “core” rationale for the First Amendment, and nowhere is it more important that speech remain free than in the arena of political advocacy. So long as students are not materially disrupting the educational process, campus administrators have no valid reason for limiting or suppressing free speech activities that support a particular candidate or political party.