“Free speech zone” or a way to control students?
by Julien J, Metzmeyer, Staff Writer
“Free speech zone” sounds nice, but do not be fooled – it is just another way to control our freedom of expression. It is like something out of Orwell, but students do not seem to be bothered by it.
“A free speech zone guarantees them peace and quiet and control,” Greg Lukianoff, president of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), told West Virginia Public Radio. “Frankly, if you’re an administrator, your number-one concern is not academic freedom…it’s making sure that you don’t get complaints from parents, making sure that you maintain good PR.”
If one area is a “free speech zone,” then everywhere else on the campus must be a restricted speech zone. This is an infringement on our First Amendment rights. The courts ruled in Widmar v. Vincent in 1981 that college campuses are considered a public forum for registered students. Therefore, we should have the right to exercise our First Amendment rights anywhere on campus.
“Public forums and public places are not the same,” said Florentino Manzano, Valley College’s Vice President of Student Services. “The least disruption for the instructional program, that’s the idea.”
According to the Supreme Court, however, they are the same. The Supreme Court has defined public places where expressive activities may take place in three categories: the traditional public forum, such as college campuses, the designated public forum (which might be either “limited” or “unlimited”), and the non-public forum. *please clear this up. it sounds like you are first mentioning that you can do three different things at public forums, then you went on to list three different kinds of forums, not all of which were even public.*
The ACLU has been fighting against “free speech zones” on colleges and universities since the 1980s, when they sued New Mexico State University after establishing three “free speech zones” on campus for students to speak and distribute literature. The court ruled in favor of the ACLU.
“Colleges are the place where issues and ideas are to be debated,” Allen Lichtenstein, general counsel for the ACLU of Nevada, told the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education. “Universities need to be free. Faculty and students need to be free to make their views known. I think in recent years, there has been a general trend towards trying to stifle free speech, trying to gain more control. I think the overall trend is that there is an attempt to close off more robust, open, free-wheeling debate.”
According to Manzano, the school simply follows California law, but California still has to comply with the United States Constitution. States may grant more rights than the Constitution grants, but they may not further restrict rights.
“The First Amendment is not optional at public colleges; it’s the law,” said Lukianoff.
Monarchs also require a permit to use the free speech zone.
“You need a permit to make sure you are not disrupting instruction. The permit is to secure a place where you are going to be,” said Manzano. “We want to know who’s here on campus and we have a designated place that that’s the idea.”
According to the First Amendment Center, “The problem arises when these zones restrict too much speech. This can create what is known as a chilling effect, the inhibition or discouragement of the legitimate exercise of a constitutional right.”
Valley officials want to confine ideas in a so-called “free speech zone,” separated by two red lines between the bookstore and Monarch Hall. If you do not have a permit or if you dare stepping out of the zone, the campus police would remind you to go back to the designated area. If you do not comply, you might get arrested.
It is more than likely that school officials do not want students’ ideas spreading because it could insight change in our society like students did in the 1960s and 1970s. In 1964, pressured by the civil rights movement and under the leadership of President Lyndon Johnson, Congress passed the Civil Rights Act of 1964. This would have never happen with the student movement whose belief was a democratic participation, or the idea that all Americans should decide our economic, political, and social future. College students were key engines in movements that changed America.
Bob Dylan was singing “The times they are a- changin’” in 1964. Today, times are a-changin’, too; but this time might not be for the better.