The Legal Promise and Sobering Reality of the Fight for Free Speech on Campus

Today’s French Press is about a subject near and dear to my heart: campus free speech. I explore a strange and troubling paradox. Just as college students are gaining freedom from the speech codes and official censorship of years past, many students feel under siege. They are free, but they don’t feel free. Let’s explore why.

Campus free speech litigators: All they do is win, win, win.

Back in the day, when I was a full-time First Amendment litigator directing the Alliance Defending Freedom’s Center for Academic Freedom, one of our most interesting and impactful cases was Badger Catholic v. Walsh. My colleague and good friend Jordan Lorence took the lead in a case revolving around one of the most underappreciated constitutional scandals in the American academy—student activity fees. 

Here’s generally how the system works. Universities impose hefty annual or per-semester fees in addition to tuition. The separate funds are often used to fund ideologically neutral activities like, say, intramural sports, but vast amounts of money are channeled into specifically and intentionally ideological enterprises. Student fees prop up interest groups, and sometimes they support ideologically driven campus “centers” dedicated to gender equity or LGBT equality. 

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