33 schools ignore Congressional request to change restrictive speech codes

Thirty-three public colleges have elected to ignore a deadline to respond to the House Judiciary Committee’s request to adopt new speech codes on campus.

Bob Goodlatte, who chairs the House Judiciary Committee, asked 160 schools to change at least one of their existing policies after a Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) report showed that these schools substantially restricted their students’ free speech rights.

In the August report, (FIRE) found that 55 percent of 437 public institutions were worthy of FIRE’s “red light” label for having “at least one policy that both clearly and substantially restricts freedom of speech.”

To qualify for the “red light” label, a policy must be both “clear,” meaning the policy on its face is a threat to free speech and “does not depend on how it is applied,” and “substantial,” meaning it broadly restricts a specific form of speech on campus.

Only 18 schools of the 437 that were surveyed received a “green light” label, meaning the school’s written policies do not pose a serious threat to free speech.

[RELATED: Fire releases list of schools with restrictive speech policies]

FIRE President and CEO Greg Lukianoff testified at a June House Judiciary Committee hearing where he presented FIRE’s survey. Lukianoff noted that despite numerous court rulings striking down restrictive speech codes, “the majority of American colleges and universities maintain speech codes.”

“Speech codes – policies prohibiting student and faculty speech that would, outside the bounds of campus, be protected by the First Amendment – have repeatedly been struck down by federal and state courts,” Lukianoff told the committee. “Yet they persist, even in the very jurisdictions where they have been ruled unconstitutional.”

After the hearing, Goodlatte sent a letter to 160 public institutions demanding the schools take steps to improve their policies.

“The first amendment prohibits the government, including governmental public colleges and universities, from infringing on free speech and the free exercise of religion, yet despite these constitutional protections, speech-restrictive policies in our nation’s public colleges and universities remain,” Goodlatte wrote.

[RELATED: Congressman calls colleges out for ignoring First Amendment]

Goodlatte, who all but threatened congressional action, asked university leaders to state “what steps [their] institution plans to take to promote free and open expression on its campus(es), including any steps toward bringing [their] free speech policies in accordance with the First Amendment.”

Goodlatte gave the schools until August 28 to respond to his request. Now, several months later, 33 schools have plainly ignored the congressman’s request, prompting Goodlatte to issue a second letter to the non-compliant universities.

The 33 non-compliant schools are:

“Your institution received a letter from the Committee regarding your school’s ‘red light’ rating … Since August, the Committee has received responses from more than 100 public colleges and universities. Your institution is among the small number of institutions that has not yet responded,” Goodlatte wrote.

Goodlatte generously provided the schools with a second deadline of February 25.

A FIRE blog post indicated that many universities are willingly complying with Goodlatte’s request, and several of the schools that received his first letter were already in contact with FIRE about reforming their speech codes. Campus Reform reached out to the House Judiciary Committee to ask what schools missed the August deadline, but received no response by press time.

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