Racism, sexism and homophobia is growing on college campuses around the
country. In response, many universities have adopted policies that address bigotry by
placing restrictions on speech. The alternative to such restrictions, many administrators
argue, is to allow bigots to run rampant and to subject their targets to a loss of equal
educational opportunity. The power of a university to eliminate bias on campus
ultimately depends not on its ability to punish a racist speaker, but instead on the depth
of its commitment to the principles of equality and education. Many universities, under
pressure to respond to the concerns of those who are the objects of hate, have adopted
codes or policies prohibiting speech that offends any group based on race, gender,
ethnicity, religion or sexual orientation.
That's the wrong response, well-meaning or not. The First Amendment to the
United States Constitution protects speech no matter how offensive its content.
codes adopted by government financed state colleges and universities amount to
government censorship, in violation of the Constitution. And the ACLU believes that
all campuses should adhere to First Amendment principles because academic freedom
is a bedrock of education in a free society. No social institution is better suited to fight
bigotry than the university. It can do so in its courses and perhaps most importantly
through the way it conducts itself as a community. We're not talking about choosing
between the First Amendment and the Fourteenth Amendment. We're talking about
choosing between regulating speech and regulating action. Murder is illegal. Talking
about it isn't. Freedom of thought and expression is particularly important on the
college campuses. The educational forum is where individuals come together to
participate in a process of shared inquiry and where the success of that endeavor
depends on an atmosphere of openness, intellectual honesty and...