Students Return During Contentions Election

PHILADELPHIA, August 29, 2016—The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) routinely receives reports from students about colleges censoring political speech during election season. As a new academic year begins, FIRE reminds students and administrators that political expression lies at the heart of free speech protections—and FIRE stands ready to defend it.

A number of schools have already threatened or restricted political speech on campus during this election cycle:

• Last fall, Georgetown University Law Center administrators prevented a group of students supporting Senator Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign from tabling inside or outside the school. After FIRE intervened with a letter to the school, Georgetown reversed its decision.

• Also last fall, American University (AU) administrators denied a request from a student group supporting the presidential campaign of Rand Paul from gaining official recognition and banned the group from petitioning in support of Paul’s campaign on campus. After FIRE intervened with a letter to the school, AU agreed to commit to allowing partisan political groups to gain official recognition.

• In April, DePaul University grounds workers removed pro-Donald Trump chalk messages on campus because some members of the crews considered the messages "inflammatory." DePaul subsequently banned all partisan political chalking on campus.

• Emory University made headlines earlier this year when President James Wagner said chalkings in support of Donald Trump on campus would be investigated after students complained that the political messages made them feel unsafe. Emory later backed off its investigation.

"Every election cycle, colleges and universities like DePaul, Georgetown, and American mistakenly claim that their nonprofit status requires that they ban political speech on campus," said FIRE Executive Director Robert Shibley. "That’s patently untrue. Political activity restrictions apply to the institution itself, not to students or student groups. Schools that promise free speech rights to their students must deliver them, and not hide behind bogus and tired arguments for censorship."

Watch FIRE’s new video: ‘The Do’s and Don’ts of Campus Activism’

In March, FIRE joined Georgetown law student Alex Atkins in testifying before the U.S. House Ways and Means Oversight Subcommittee about censorship of political speech on campus. In her written testimony, FIRE Director of Litigation Catherine Sevcenko outlined the 13 times since 2008 when FIRE intervened after schools cited their tax-exempt status to justify censoring student political speech—and that number continues to grow.

For those interested in learning more about the protections afforded to political speech on campus, FIRE’s newly updated Policy Statement on Political Speech on Campus provides a comprehensive overview of the rights students and faculty have when speaking out on a political candidate or party. Relatedly, FIRE’s new FAQ for Student Protests on Campus answers common questions about students’ rights when demonstrating.

Students and faculty who believe their political speech rights have been violated on campus can contact FIRE through our easy-to-use case submission page.

The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization dedicated to defending liberty, freedom of speech, due process, academic freedom, legal equality, and freedom of conscience on America’s college campuses.

Katie Barrows, Communications Coordinator
FIRE: 215-717-3473; [email protected]