Report: Millions of U.S. college students denied free speech rights

About 6.4 million students on American campuses throughout the country do not have equal rights to speak freely, as is guaranteed by the First Amendment, due primarily to their political beliefs, a new report released last week concluded.

The Dec. 4 report from the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) said that the stifling of speech on campuses has also caught the attention of the Trump administration and the Oval Office.

The organization rated speech rights on campuses with “red,” “yellow,” and “green” lights. Researchers gave a quarter of all campuses — 25 percent — a red light rating, while 64 percent received a yellow light rating and just 11 percent got a green light.

Red signifies the worst rating, or places where speech rights are most curtailed.

“Many college administrators are scrubbing the most egregious policies from the books, but they’re increasingly crafting subtler policies that still limit student expression,” said FIRE Senior Program Officer Laura Beltz, the lead author of the study.

“Yellow light policies aren’t good enough — they still restrict protected speech. Colleges must go green or go back to the drawing board,” she added.

The 11 percent of ‘green light’ colleges amounts to just 50 institutions.

Red light ratings were given to institutions whose speech codes both “clearly and substantially” restrict freedom of speech.

The findings include:

— For the first time, more than 1 million students are enrolled at green light institutions. More than 6.4 million students attend colleges rated yellow, red, or warning.

— Also for the first time, entire states are home to only green light-rated institutions. Arizona earned this distinction in February. Since the report was written, Mississippi joined Arizona in having all rated institutions earn a green light rating.

— Since 2013, the percentage of surveyed institutions maintaining unconstitutional free speech zones has been halved, from 16% to 8%. Almost 40 institutions maintain such zones, opening themselves up to costly legal challenges. Over 560,000 students attend such institutions.

— Seventy administrations or faculty bodies have adopted statements in support of free speech modeled after the one adopted by the University of Chicago in January 2015. That’s up 17 schools from two years ago.

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