Free Speech and Why it is Important on College Campuses

Free speech is a right guaranteed by the First Amendment to the United States Constitution. We all know that. We also know that all Amendments have the possibility of being interpreted differently. Some may see free speech as a guaranteed right in all cases, no matter what type of expression they are using. This viewpoint is, in my opinion, a dangerous way of looking at free speech. There are many exceptions to free speech, including obscenity, offensive speech, and false advertising.

Healy v. James

In the Supreme Court case Healy v. James, in 1972, college students were denied recognition as a campus organization. They were seeking to form a chapter of Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), and identification would have entitled them to use campus facilities for meetings and use the campus bulletin board and the school newspaper. The college president denied their recognition because he believed that the SDS had a philosophy of disruption and violence. The Supreme Court decided that denying the recognition of the campus chapter did indeed violate the First Amendment.

Here is my take on it. The school president should have instead let the chapter form and recognize them as an official club on campus. Recognizing them would have avoided the fiasco of a possible lawsuit for violating their First Amendment’s rights. Not recognizing them proves to me that he was scared of the possibilities of them forming and causing violence on campus. However, First Amendment rights are more important to students and take priority over the president’s apparent uneasy feeling of future events that might not even take place at all. The professor could have just kept a close eye on them and made sure at the first sign of disruption or violence to shut the chapter down.

Rosenberger v. University of Virginia

In the Supreme Court case Rosenberger v. University of Virginia, in 1995, the Supreme Court ruled that it was unconstitutional for the college to withhold funding for one of the school’s publications, a student newspaper named Wide Awake. The college argued that choosing not to fund the newspaper was done to avoid violating the University’s Establishment Clause of the First Amendment because a section of the paper had a Christian editorial. The publication argued that this violated their freedom of speech guaranteed by the First Amendment.

Here is my take on it. This case is rough. This case is practically pitting one part of the First Amendment, the religious element, against another part of the Amendment, the free speech part. Ultimately, I agree with the Supreme Court decision, because in my opinion, a Christian editorial within a newspaper is neutral toward religion. It was an open forum for free speech to support diversity, not an attempt to dominate the school with Christian viewpoints. The funds that the school denied the publication were also used neutrally for all student activities. Therefore there is no possible way that the newspaper was violating the Establishment Clause.

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