Free speech is under attack on university campuses – the very place where rigorous debate and intellectual diversity should be embraced.  Many universities fail to uphold the promises of free expression, assembly, and religion to students and faculty through vaguely written speech codes or speech “zones” that impermissibly prohibit free expression.[1]

The Solution?

Adopt policies that repeal unconstitutional speech codes and promote free expression on college and university campuses.

Higher Learning, Lower Freedoms.

  • A recent survey of 440 American universities found that almost half adopt policies that seriously infringe on the First Amendment rights of students.
  • Many institutions require students to obtain permission from the school administration “days or even weeks before being allowed to speak their minds,” and engage in free expression.
  • A recent survey of over 800 students across the country revealed that 51 percent favored imposing speech code restriction on other students. A full 30 percent of self-described liberal students believed that the First Amendment was “outdated.”

Our Nation Needs Reform

There is no place where tolerance of free speech and expression should be more valued than America’s colleges and universities. Unfortunately, there are serious First Amendment issues that need to be addressed on college campuses.

  • According to the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, one in six universities maintain free speech zones – a space designed to limit your ability to hold “rallies, demonstrations, distribute literature, circulate petitions and give speeches.” Permission is usually required to use these “speech zones,” and applications must be approved by the university days or even weeks in advance. This goes against the purpose of free expression. The entire college campus should be a free speech zone, not just one area.
  • Many students today wish to silence the speech of their peers. Sadly, a full 40 percent of Millennials said they believe the government should be able to “punish speech offensive to minority groups,” and 72 percent support “disciplinary action against ‘any student or faculty member on campus who uses language that is considered racist, sexist, homophobic or otherwise offensive.’” Everyone, regardless of background, deserves the opportunity to be informed, including opinions different from their own, and to share perspectives with others. Open and rigorous debate is an essential part of a college or university’s duty to foster creative idea for the next generation.
  • These egregious speech restriction policies have had real life impacts. For example, at North Carolina State University, the school prohibited a Christian student group from handing out materials or even “speaking to passerbys” in the student union without prior permission. A judge recently granted a preliminary injunction to prevent the University from continuing to enforce this policy.

Real Solutions For Free Speech

Open and rigorous debate is an essential part of a college or university’s duty to foster creative idea for the next generation. To uphold this principle, states should ensure the following.

  • Colleges and universities should repeal all speech codes and zones that unconstitutionally infringe on the free expression rights of their students.
  • Time, place and manner restrictions on speech should only be allowed when they are clear, reasonable, narrowly tailored, published, content, and viewpoint-neutral criteria, and provide for ample alternative means of expression.
  • Students should be permitted to freely demonstrate in public places, as long as their conduct is not unlawful and does not materially and substantially disrupt the functioning of the institution.
  • Higher learning institutions must review their student handbooks to clarify overly broad sexual harassment and bullying restrictions and remove unconstitutionally vague or content based restrictions on speech.
    Universities should encourage academic freedom by educating faculty and students about the need for free speech and affirm the principles of the historic 1967 Kalven Committee Report which states: “A university, if it is to be true to its faith in intellectual inquiry, must embrace, be hospitable to, and encourage the widest diversity of views within its own community.


Generation Opportunity is leading the fight to restore free speech rights to college students. Our activists currently attend universities that impose excessively restrictive speech codes on students and violate their constitutional rights. Generation Opportunity is helping empower these students to change the system. North Carolina State Director Anna Beavon Gravely recently led a movement of student activists to lobby the North Carolina Legislature to pass meaningful reform.

Through media appearances and op-eds, Generation Opportunity is building momentum to introduce and pass meaningful reform to restore constitutional rights to college students. A sample of these publications are listed below: