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Student Free Speech Rally Violated Campus Speech Codes at University of South Carolina

Is it not the epitome of state censorship for people not to be free to discuss even the very concept of free speech without facing investigation?  In a World of Free Speech Zones and college campuses having “emotional support circles,” the ability to have free speech about free speech violates Codes at South Carolina.  Even people in California are calling this crazy – nice job bringing South Carolina back to the spotlight after the Clemson Victory.

Two student organizations at the University of South Carolina ran afoul of campus speech codes when, in promoting a pro-free speech event, they displayed posters and handouts that referred to censorship at other colleges. Although the students obeyed the school’s regulations about handing out materials, several people filed harassment charges because they didn’t like what the handouts said. In a bizarre turn of events, the students were questioned and investigated by school officials—for talking about incidents where other students were likewise questioned and investigated for exercising their First Amendment rights. To make matters worse, the university refused to clarify its policies and essentially imposed a gag order on one student, forbidding him from discussing this incident with the faculty or student body.

The United States Supreme Court has held that the First Amendment allows the government to set reasonable restrictions on time, place, and manner of expression. But the Court has repeatedly said that the government can’t act in a way that discourages speech. Its policies and actions must survive strict judicial scrutiny—being narrowly tailored to achieve a compelling interest—to even investigate individuals for engaging in protected expression. Public universities, as government actors, are legally bound by this principle. And yet the US Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit ruled for the University of South Carolina here.

An extensive inquisitorial process like the one here has a chilling effect on speech. That is, people are less likely to exercise their First Amendment rights due to fear of reprisal. It is the epitome of state censorship for people not to be free to discuss even the very concept of free speech without facing investigation. The process itself is a punishment; not only is it extensive and undefined, but it also leaves the door open for future persecution.

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Instead of producing strong young minds capable of adapting to the challenges of the adult world, universities like the one here have insulated and infantilized students, doing both the students and the public at large a great disservice.

The purpose of education is to broaden one’s mind, testing the strength of ideas in the fire of adverse opinion. Far-reaching campus speech codes run counter to this objective. Instead of producing strong young minds capable of adapting to the challenges of the adult world, universities like the one here have insulated and infantilized students, doing both the students and the public at large a great disservice.  Thus contributing to the “snowflake effect.”   I really wonder if the government should study  the correlation between college increase in attendance and college students intolerance of adverse opinions.  They would probably be willing to spend $5 Billion on that study.

The ACLU of South Carolina, DKT Liberty Project, and Reason Foundation filed an amicus brief urging the Supreme Court to hear Abbott v. Pastides and supporting students’ right to express themselves in ways consistent with the First Amendment. The Court should remind universities that the merits of a speaker’s ideas are determined by each individual listener, not by school administrators, and that the reward or punishment for speech is found in the swaying of public opinion, not in retaliatory investigation processes or the absence thereof.

The law, lawyers, judges, and the legal field in general is built on the notion of zealous advocacy.  What many do not realize is that zealous advocacy is only effective if you can argue both sides of any argument.  When you become so entrenched in your position that you can not argue the other positions, you become blind and deaf to a different perspective and an open mind.  The first responsibility of any good Attorney is to LISTEN.  Three Rules for every person in the legal field are often over looked:

1. Don’t focus on ourselves – We do not know what our client wants and it is not about you.  Just working to bill is not working for your client’s (or for justice’s) best interest.

2. Don’t focus on what the client wants – The Client does not know the law and must trust you to advise them with THEIR best interest at heart.

3. You are not smarter or dumber than anyone – We all have our own perception and view of ideas and even facts.  Belittling and mocking someone because they are different does not lead to solutions only entrenched problems.

If you allow free speech and listen, you may find that you are not that different in your goals just on how to get there.  We were all created equal, but not the same – listen and learn from a different perspective.

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