Speech Code of the Month: Florida Gulf Coast University
April 5, 2007
by Samantha Harris
FIRE announces its Speech Code of the Month for April 2007: Florida Gulf Coast University (FGCU).
FGCU is a public institution, bound by the First Amendment. FGCU’s “Personal Abuse” policy
prohibits “lewd, indecent, racist, prejudice [sic], obscene, or expressions deemed inappropriate.” This policy is unconstitutional on so many levels that it is almost hard to know where to begin. Let’s start with what is perhaps the most obvious problem: “expressions deemed inappropriate.” Who gets to do the deeming? Is it university administrators? If so, that’s an awful lot of discretion just waiting to be abused. Is it the listener, such that the university is willing to punish anything that a particularly sensitive listener deems inappropriate? You get the point. This policy is so vague and so broad that it cannot be enforced across the board, so it will necessarily be enforced arbitrarily. Moreover, even most speech that a reasonable person would deem “inappropriate” is nonetheless constitutionally protected, and cannot be prohibited by a public university like FGCU.
The ban on racist and prejudiced expression is equally problematic. First, these terms are not defined. What exactly constitutes racist expression at FGCU? Many people consider opposition to illegal immigration or affirmative action to be racist; could discussing those timely and important issues get you in trouble at FGCU? “Prejudiced” is vaguer still. A person can be prejudiced against anything and everything, since all that “prejudiced” means is “having a belief or attitude formed beforehand
.” I for one am prejudiced against child molesters—could I get in trouble for expressing this opinion at FGCU? Again, the problem with prohibiting extremely broad categories of expression is obvious: who knows exactly what is banned? Who gets to decide how these extremely vague terms are defined? And, as with most “inappropriate” expression, the fact is that most “racist” or “prejudiced” expression, unpleasant as it may be, is still protected by the Constitution.
FGCU should repeal this repressive and unconstitutional policy immediately.
If you believe that your college or university should be a Speech Code of the Month, please email email@example.com
with a link to the policy and a brief description of why you think attention should be drawn to this code.