Under the Constitution, there is no role for the federal government to play in education – at any level. Nevertheless, Washington has been meddling more and more in education since the days of Lyndon Johnson.
The Department of Justice, however, is supposed to act to protect the rights of all Americans and it happens that the First Amendment rights of many college students are often violated. Public institutions and private ones that accept federal money are obligated to uphold free speech rights on their campuses. Administrators frequently turn a blind eye to violations, or are even complicit in them. The Department of Justice has never shown any interest in such cases.
But on September 26, Attorney General Jeff Sessions gave a speech at Georgetown University in which he stated that the Department of Justice would be taking a vigorous role in countering the assaults on freedom of speech on college campuses. He said to an assembly of law students, “We hope you will take part in the right of every American: the free, robust, and sometimes contentious exchange of ideas. As you exercise these rights, realize how precious, how rare, and how fragile they are. In most societies throughout history… such rights to not exist.”
The right of free speech is, however, increasingly under attack on American college campuses, Sessions continued. He pointed to the case of Kellogg Community College in Michigan, where students were arrested for peacefully advocating liberty and the ideals of the Constitution to passersby. (You can read about the case here.)
“The American university was once the center of academic freedom—a place of robust debate, a forum for the competition of ideas,” Sessions said. “But it is transforming into an echo chamber of political correctness and homogenous thought, a shelter for fragile egos.”
What does Sessions intend to do about that?
He said that the Department of Justice has filed a Statement of Interest in a case involving a student at Georgia Gwinnett College who maintains that his First Amendment rights were violated when the school confined students to a tiny “free speech zone” if they wanted to express themselves. (He wanted to preach his Christian beliefs.)
Furthermore, “students were required to obtain prior authorization from campus officials, to limit their expressive activity to a specified date and time, and to comply with the Student Code of Conduct’s prohibition of speech that ‘disturbs the comfort of persons(s).’” Obviously, the Sessions finds the college’s regulation of free speech to be unacceptable.