Free-speech advocacy group releases guidelines to advise college students on their rights

WASHINGTON, D.C. — College studentshave a new resource to consult when their free-speech rights are beingthreatened. The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, alsoknown as FIRE, is releasing a five-part series of publications that informstudents of their legal rights, along with useful moral arguments, so they mightchallenge and end speech zones, religious censorship and “kangaroo” courts ontheir campus. The five 100-page-plus paperback books will be availableto students free of charge and can be downloaded at the civil libertiesorganization’s newly launched Web site, Three titles,”Religious Liberty On Campus,” “Student Fees, Funding, And Legal Equality OnCampus,” and “Due Process And Fair Procedure On Campus,” were released to thepublic during a press conference held at the National Press Club on March 11.The guides for “Free Speech On Campus” and “First-Year Orientation And ThoughtReform On Campus” will be released inMay.Each of the publications details theFirst Amendment protections currently recognized by courts, along with anyapplicable federal and state legal doctrines. The publications also will advisestudents how to determine whether university policies are objectively fair andwhat to do if they feel their rights have been violated.According to theWeb site, “FIRE’s Guide To Free Speech On Campus” focuses on the threat tofreedom of expression posed by the imposition of speech codes, and “Due ProcessAnd Fair Procedure On Campus” explains the appropriate and inappropriate methodsby which administrators and student judicial panels address issues of academicmisdeeds and behavioral misconduct.The guidelines were written andedited by a diverse coalition of First Amendment advocates from both sides ofthe political spectrum. Former U.S. Attorney General Edwin Meese III, who servedduring the Reagan administration, has joined forces with American CivilLiberties Union President Nadine Strossen, a typical opponent during debates.Both urged the need for freedom of expression on college campuses during thepress conference.”There’s no doubt in my mind that censorship, speechcodes and political correctness are the absolute antithesis of what institutionsof higher learning ought to be about,” Meese said. Strossen said FIRE’s guidesare effective in explaining to students their rights because of their “absoluteneutrality” in partisan politics.Roger Pilon, vice president for legalaffairs at the Cato Institute, Alan Dershowitz, Harvard University professor oflaw, and Freedom Forum Ombudsman Paul McMasters are also on the project’s boardof editors, among others.University of Pennsylvania professor Alan Charles Kors andBoston attorney Harvey A. Silvergate, FIRE’s co-directors, formed thePhiladelphia-based civil liberties organization three years ago to provideassistance to college students whose free-speech rights are being violated.Recently, FIRE spoke out against Harvard Business School administrators whothreatened the school’s student newspaper editor with disciplinary action forpublishing what they claimed was an offensive cartoon. But theguidelines mark a new avenue of advocacy, from “retail to wholesale” support ofstudents, as Meese coined. And Silvergate agrees.”We have begun to putout these guides in order to empower the students with some knowledge and withsome tactical advice for what they can do,” he said.