According to Montclair University’s speech policy, students must get permission from the dean’s office two weeks prior to speaking freely and publicly on campus. Otherwise, they lose their First Amendment free speech rights.
In September 2019, two students at Montclair “dressed in orange jump suits and held up signs voicing their support – as pretend criminals – for gun-free zones.” The intent was to express their opinion that gun-free zones only keep guns away from law-abiding citizens, thereby helping criminals and harming those the zones purport to protect.
After attempting to speak their mind on campus, a campus police officer approached them and ordered them to stop, informing the students that anyone who wants to speak on campus had to get permission two weeks in advance. And even then, they could only speak freely at a specific time and place determined by the dean’s office.
Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) has filed a federal lawsuit on behalf of the students alleging that the policy is “unconstitutional.”
The lawsuit is also challenging the university’s Bias Education Response Taskforce which exists to respond to “bias incidents” on campus. According to its website, the Taskforce provides a “well-coordinated and comprehensive response to incidents of intolerance and bias with respect to race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, disability, religion and national origin.” ADF alleges that the Taskforce exists, “to suppress speech that may make others uncomfortable.”
Thirdly, the lawsuit contends that Montclair University has “an unconstitutional class system that grants preferential treatment to student organizations based on their viewpoints.” This system grants the student government the power to place student organizations into ranked “classes.” The ranking of the group impacts its access to funding from student fees.
In a statement, ADF Legal Counsel Michael Ross said, “A public university is supposed to be a marketplace of ideas, but that marketplace can’t function if officials impose burdensome restraints on speech or if they can selectively enforce those restraints against disfavored groups.”
“Policing peaceful student expression that the university doesn’t favor is blatantly unconstitutional and directly opposed to the mission of public universities to encourage and allow the discussion of ideas,” Ross concluded.
Public universities like Montclair have become testing laboratories for concocted ideas from liberal professors who outnumber conservative professors 12 to 1. The recent rise in so-called “free speech zones” on college campuses is one such idea.
If students aren’t free to speak their mind in college, is there really a point in a university education?
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