The basic definition of a free speech zone is said to be an area where “policital activists” have the right for free speech in the United States. The use of free speech zones came from U.S. court decisions allowing the government to regulate the “time, place, manner” of expression but no the content. The purpose of the zones are to protect the protesters themselves and the gathering. Universities started to create the zones between 1960-1970’s in order to not disrupt any classes. In 1968, the Supreme Court ruled that non-disruptive speech is allowed in school (Tinker vs. Des Moines Independent Community School District) but this does not apply to PRIVATE universities.
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Freedom of speech is a fundamental right guaranteed under the Virginia Constitution, the First Amendment of the US Bill of Rights and Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
But freedom of speech is often not recognized in the one place where it ought to be respected the most: A college campus in the USA.
For centuries, and for generations, unpopular speech has been most protected on college campuses. For instance, a photo of President Teddy Roosevelt (above) shows a speech he gave defending Professor John Bassett on the Duke University campus in 1903. Bassett was about to be fired for saying he thought Booker T. Washington (an African American leader) was the greatest person the South had ever produced except Robert E. Lee.
When the Duke board refused to fire Bassett, Roosevelt said:
“You stand for Academic Freedom, for the right of private judgment, for a duty more incumbent upon the scholar than upon any other man, to tell the truth as he sees it, to claim for himself and to give to others the largest liberty in seeking after the truth.”
It’s been a long time since any similarly strong defense of campus speech has taken place. Today many universities simply refuse to recognize First Amendment rights until they are forced to do so by a court. At Radford University, where this blog originates, avenues for student expression are strictly limited in ways that are obviously unconstitutional. Continue reading