Should Controversial Speakers Be Allowed on Your Campus?
The news of contentious persons seeking to speak at colleges has dominated the previous several years. Most of the time, they are far-right public figures seeking to speak on colleges that lean left or campuses in liberal cities.
You might question whether these polarising personalities have the right to speak at colleges, given the turmoil they produce.
The solution to this question is complex, but we’ll attempt to deconstruct it here (as it stands).
Note: This response is only applicable to public institutions. The First Amendment does not apply to private institutions and thus does not have a fundamental obligation to respect the First Amendment.
Isn’t it true that free speech is a right?
The First Amendment of the United States Constitution guarantees freedom of expression. The courts have repeatedly confirmed this. The Supreme Court has upheld this freedom for students speaking on college campuses.
However, it’s unclear how this relates to individuals such as Richard Spencer, Milo Yiannopolous, and Ann Coulter.
Universities that accept public financing are theoretically public forums, which implies that polarising figures have the right to talk there, although that right is limited.
Unlike a roadway or a public park, a public college campus is considered a “restricted public forum” by the court.
Your institution is legally authorized to impose guidelines for speakers when they seek to speak at the school since your campus is a “restricted public forum.” On the other hand, the institution cannot discriminate; the same regulations that apply to former President Barack Obama must equally apply to Fox News host Sean Hannity.
Campuses can cram all speakers into a single room or otherwise make a schedule for them when the campus would be unoccupied, but the restrictions must be applied equally to all speakers.
Is it Possible for My University to Turn Down Speakers?
In general, public schools are unable to refuse speakers.
If a student organization invites a presenter to university, a judicial precedent indicates that it is a school’s “constitutional obligation” not to decline or discriminate against the request.
Your university might turn speakers down. However, it can only refuse if there are grounds to suspect that the speaker would promote violence against the state or the institution at which they are speaking. Even when there are threats of violence, it is difficult to silence speakers if it appears that the university is suppressing a particular viewpoint.
What About Abusive behavior?
When schools have the authority to prevent speakers from inciting violence against the state or an institution, hate speech is countered. This speech, however, must be meant to provoke violence, be a genuine threat, or employ fighting language that is personally offensive and delivered in a face-to-face setting.
Questions concerning problematic speakers will persist, and the solutions may become more apparent in the future. Was this article helpful in answering your questions concerning college free speech? Comment below with your ideas.