FIRE on free speech in 2018: Too-few 'green' campuses

Tuesday, December 18, 2018
 | 
Bob Kellogg (OneNewsNow.com)

Man covering mouth (censorship)An organization that acts as a free speech watchdog for college campuses says few schools are finishing the year as champions of free speech.

Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, known as FIRE, has released its annual survey rating that shows 42 schools received a "green light" rating out 466 private and public schools it monitors.

The worst rating from FIRE is a "red light" designation, and FIRE spokesperson Laura Beltz says half the colleges and universities in 11 states earned that dubious distinction.

OneNewsNow often reports on schools targeted by FIRE, such as three universities in New Hampshire earning a "green light" rating this year after working with the group to revise their free speech codes. Plymouth State, Keen State College, and the University of New Hampshire worked with FIRE on their speech code violations.

Delta State University (entrance)A small public university in Mississippi, meanwhile, earned an ONN story in November for a campus policy that bans causing "emotional distress" to others. Delta State has a "red light" rating with FIRE for that vague policy, which states that "words, behavior, and/or actions which inflict mental or emotional distress" are "strictly prohibited."

Beltz

Beltz says there is some good news. "This is the 11th year in a row," she says, "where the amount of the worst 'red light' rated schools has gone down."

Still, she adds, there is a trend of other campuses moving to the "yellow light" category due to vague policies that are used to restrict free speech.

Whether a school is a "red light" or "yellow light" campus, she says those policies teach college students the wrong message about the First Amendment.

"If you're told that any kind of a sense of speech will be reported to the administration," says Beltz, "you're learning the wrong lesson there: that you shouldn't be getting out and voicing your opinion."

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