Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

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Schools implementing free-speech zones

Throughout the country, universities are setting up free-speech areas while restricting nearly every aspect of speech itself.

For instance, the University of Wisconsin System regulates speech content codes for its schools but allows individual schools to determine the “time, place, and manner” of speech.

“To be consistent with the Constitution, it is perfectly legal for any government facility to regulate the time, place, and manner in which free speech can exist on its property,” said Patricia Brady, Deputy General Council for the UW System.

Codes like these have students all over the country in an uproar.

Administration at the University of Houston refused to let a pro-life group display photos of dead fetuses in a high-traffic area. A judge later ruled the university must allow the display. Officials complied by creating four free-speech zones away from heavy traffic.

“Free-speech zones that tend to isolate or remove where you can exercise your constitutional rights to the edge of campus are clearly illegal and unconstitutional,” said First Amendment expert Jonathan Kotler, director of graduate and professional programs at University of Southern California.

“Students have constitutional rights, and universities operate under an old doctrine in Latin called ‘loco parentis’ — in place of the parents,” Kotler said. “They attempt sometimes to restrict those rights, and they go overboard.”

At UW-Whitewater, free-speech zones were set up at Wyman Hall and Hamilton Green. Officials at UW-Whitewater said the policy was never meant to curb free speech but was enacted in response to protest activity since Sept. 11. The chancellor later reversed the policy.

Kotler said free speech can only be restricted when it interferes with the operation of the university.

“Yes, you can exercise your constitutional rights and free speech as long as you don’t disrupt the function of the university, and you can do it anyplace, regardless of what the university says,” Kotler said. “Now, can you walk into a classroom and disrupt the class if you have a different political view than the professor? No. The university has the right to stop that. Of course they do.”

Kotler said the situation is different on private campuses, where speech codes can be more strictly enforced. He noted a situation at USC, a private school, where the school attempted to enact a speech code that required people to get permits in order to exercise free speech.

Kotler said the university looked “dumb” and eventually scrapped the idea.

“Places with free-speech zones go back well before 9-11,” said UW law professor Gerald Thain said. “There was the concern of some of the students and administration of these schools about whether or not their ability to speak generally was being constrained.”

“I don’t know why any intelligent administration would even attempt to do something like this,” Kotler said. “Once universities get to court, they always lose — not usually, always lose. The First Amendment always wins.”

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