(Photo: Rollins College)
A legal effort by the faith-based organization Alliance Defending Freedom launched last year has resulted in 30 of the nation's public universities and colleges changing their policies to ensure that students' First-Amendment freedoms are protected, including Christian students' right to free speech and choice of leadership.
"Public universities should encourage, not censor, the free exchange of ideas," said ADF Senior Counsel Kevin Theriot. "This effort has given public universities and colleges the opportunity to respect the constitutionally protected freedoms of their students without any costly litigation. The objective has been to inform officials of how their policies conflict with the Constitution, as reinforced by numerous federal court rulings, so that the schools can make changes."
Among the problematic policies are various speech codes and zones that place unconstitutional restrictions on student speech, policies that force student clubs to accept voting members and officers that don't agree with the clubs' beliefs, and policies that allow non-religious student groups to use student activity fees but exclude religious student groups even though the students in those groups have contributed to the fees, according to ADF.
Theriot told The Christian Post that although ADF has seen some success in its campaign that includes sending letters that demand colleges change their policies, there's a long road ahead as officials continue to attempt to censor biblical speech that might be deemed offensive.
He said the demand letters allow schools to make changes without litigation and protects the students. "It allows schools to fix their policies so that they can be a marketplace of ideas instead of places of censorship. That's what universities are supposed to be about."
He added, "The success of this effort so far means we will continue pressing forward to help schools protect their students as well as help students who often end up the victims of unconstitutional policies."
Recent victories by ADF included a battle in Iowa at Des Moines Area Community College, where officials barred a Christian student from distributing fliers containing religious and political messages in the open-air quad on campus. The fliers protested the allocation of college funds to subsidize student tickets to the Iowa Governor's Conference on Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Questioning Youth.
After a suit was filed by ADF last April, the college agreed to no longer enforce its policy of limiting its approved student speech zone to a table in the student center. It has also agreed to no longer require students to get permission to distribute fliers 10 school days in advance.