There are few rights as precious, or inalienable, as the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States of America.
The First Amendment states: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances." Without this right, we would live in a world where we are not allowed to disseminate our ideas, let alone express them freely. Unfortunately, college students across the nation deal with censorship on a daily basis.
Universities employ various forms of prior restraint, effectively censoring speech before it ever takes place.
In the expansive history of our republic, the Supreme Court has upheld one case involving prior restraint, and even then it involved the distribution of classified intelligence during a time of war (Near v. Minnesota, 283 U.S. 697, 1931).
Universities often guise prior restraint as permits to demonstrate, approval to disseminate information, and in rare cases, the approval of the information to be distributed itself. Universities claim these policies are in place to ensure that normal operations of the college are kept “civil.” In reality, these policies are used to pre-screen speech on campus. Students advocating for limited government, personal freedom, and maximum liberty bear the brunt of these policies.
In a society where colleges attempt to indoctrinate the future leaders of the country with left-leaning ideologies, this is the perfect tool to ensure students are not exposed to viewpoints that question the status quo. What better way to ensure your viewpoints are the dominant ones than by regulating what viewpoints are even allowed on campus?
Think about it: A microcosmic government bureaucracy administers the right to free speech to its constituents. Another way to consider this is that American citizens would have to go to City Hall, fill out a form to obtain the right to peacefully assemble, fill out another form to distribute the Constitution, AND then City Hall would need to “review” the Constitution in order to determine if it is appropriate.
This takes place across the state of California; the community college system, the University of California system, and the California State system all employ one form of prior restraint or another.
In the Coast Community College District, over 20,000 students are enrolled in classes and have the guaranteed expectation that their First Amendment rights will be upheld to the full extent of the law, seeing that they’ve enrolled in a public institution. However, the Board of Trustees seems to think otherwise.
The CCCD employs egregious policies that clearly and substantially restrict the First Amendment. In this district, in order to engage in “expressive activity,” outside of a single designated sidewalk for free speech, one must fill out a reservation form.
Fair enough, the university wants to ensure that spaces are available to students. However, by using a reservation process, administrators can “pre-screen” the speech and ensure it is “safe” for their campus.
Additionally, the Board of Trustees mandates that in order to engage in the “Distribution of Handbills, Circulars, or Advertisements,” students must first obtain prior approval from the university. The phrase "prior approval" should be read as a synonym for prior restraint. By mandating that all materials be approved by the university, this is just another way a college can screen speech and materials before it takes place.
While some may say this is splitting hairs over policies that hardly seem nefarious on their face, students who suffer under prior restraint would argue that it’s the seemingly innocent policies that campus bureaucrats use for their own purposes of limiting speech before it ever takes place.
Alexander Staudt (@astaudt94) is director of free speech at Young Americans for Liberty, a nonprofit organization based in Arlington, Va., with more than 900 college chapters across the country.