NAICU Washington Update

Justice Department Supports Challenges to Campus Free Speech Zones

November 12, 2017

The Department of Justice has filed a statement of interest in a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of campus free speech zones. The lawsuit against Los Angeles Pierce College claims that the school’s policy of prohibiting students from protesting or engaging in other forms of free expression outside of designated free speech zones is an unconstitutional restraint on freedom of speech.

The Department’s action marks the second time in a month that the Trump Administration has filed a statement of interest in a campus free speech zone case. Previously, the Department filed a similar statement in a challenge brought against Georgia Gwinnett College. That statement was filed shortly before Attorney General Jeff Sessions gave a much-publicized speech criticizing colleges and universities for failing to protect freedom of speech.

Although both cases in which the Department intervened involve public institutions, the lawsuits are part of a larger trend in which Members of Congress and the Trump Administration have condemned colleges and universities, including private institutions, for how they have handled high-profile free speech conflicts on campus. In response, Congress has held several hearings and introduced legislation addressing freedom of speech on college campuses.

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