CC restricts free speech

Colorado’s Front Range Community College has won a dubious award, Speech Code of the Month, from the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE).

The college limits expression to a “free speech zone” on each of its three campuses.  Before expressing opinions, students must complete a Free Speech Zone Registration Form.

The form contains a perfect blend of unintentional hilarity and horrendous unconstitutionality that makes it an ideal Speech Code of the Month.

First, Front Range declares itself a “non-public forum” with a “right to restrict the time, place, and manner of the free speech activity.”

. . . the college cannot simply declare itself a non-public forum, and its right to maintain reasonable time, place, and manner restrictions absolutely does not give it carte blanche to decide when, where, and how student expression can take place.

Students can’t hand out flyers, pamphlets or petitions, even within the free speech zones, unless passers-by request the material.

This unreasonably broad rule violates students’ First Amendment rights, FIRE responds.

The college also bans pictures, displays and graphics that “promote hate, harm, violence, or the threat of these to others.”

While it is fine to prohibit actual threats and incitement of violence, the broad prohibition on the promotion of “hate” could easily be applied to a great deal of protected, and even core political, expression (think of, for example, certain views on illegal immigration, etc.).

“De minimus speech (speech that amounts to nothing and has no purpose) will not be allowed,” the policy states.

Who decides whether speech has no purpose? Presumably the administration. But even if the college could define “speech that amounts to nothing and has no purpose,” such speech would still be entitled to First Amendment protection, FIRE writes, “unless it fell into one of the very narrow categories of speech (obscenity, true threats, and so forth) that are explicitly unprotected.”

Front Range Community College can’t “quarantines free speech on its campuses,” FIRE conclude, much less impose “impermissible content-based regulations on the content of speech.”

On Inside Higher Ed, Susan Herbst calls for teaching students civility in debating controversial issues. Hate speech bans don’t work, she writes.