When the Justice Department got involved in a freedom of expression dispute at a California public college the First Amendment legalities were a pretty simple affair. The statement of interest in Shaw v. Burke mirrored Uzuegbunam v. Preczewski, another case dealing with restrictive campus free speech zones. Both documents stated simply and plainly what we should never take for granted:
The United States has an interest in protecting the individual rights guaranteed by the First Amendment. The right to free speech lies at the heart of a free society and is the “only effectual guardian of every other right.”1,2
So who is guarding the guardian?
Freedom of expression conflicts with free college
Speech and expression aren’t the only things we expect to be free. The call for debt-free higher education is growing. Look no further if you want to know where the freedom of expression debate is coming from.
Rising college costs mean that public schools have an enormous financial stake in opposing viewpoints that don’t go along with handing out no-cost diplomas, increasing federal aid, or forgiving student loan debt. Causing problems for illegal immigrants who attend school is also against the interest of public academia because money trumps every other concern. That includes protecting the freedoms of those whose viewpoints oppose liberal lawmaking and Democratic bills like the College for All Act and the Bank on Student Loan Refinancing Act.
Zones for free expression aren’t the problem
The fight to preserve freedom of expression at colleges didn’t ride in with Jeff Sessions and Donald Trump. On August 14, 2015 the House Judiciary Committee drew a line in the sand for 160 public colleges and universities that received a “red light warning” from FIRE,3 the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education. The letter declared:
The First Amendment prohibits the government, including governmental public colleges and universities, from infringing on free speech and the free exercise of religion.4
Free speech zones are a solution to the problem of how to legally restrict unpopular ideas, but freedom of expression is not the real issue. It’s a straw man.
First Amendment doesn’t pay very well
If freedom of expression paid better we wouldn’t have a problem.
Debt-free college is a Democratic policy goal that stalled but didn’t die after Obama left office. That didn’t stop Bernie Sanders from championing the cause with the Free College for All Act and its $600 billion Wall Street speculation tax to ensure that college is a “right for all.”5
Democrats offer easy money to public colleges, universities, and students. This is spending that a Republican Congress will frown on, so what reason do public schools have to stifle outrage among left-wing students, faculty, and administrators incensed at losing a free ride offered by liberal politicians? They have none, which goes a long way to explaining why our open-minded colleges and universities can be so closed-minded and downright hostile when it comes to conservative views.