ADF Center for Academic Freedom client Mike Adams posted an article today at Townhall.com that humorously highlights the ludicrous implications of the speech code at the University of Northern Colorado. The speech code bans “inappropriate jokes,” meaning those motivated by any form of bias. Of course, this leaves students wondering whether blonde jokes, Aggie jokes, political jokes, or even lawyer jokes are permitted on campus. But then the speech code goes even further, banning anyone from “intentionally, recklessly, or negligently causing . . . emotional or mental harm to any person.” Under this standard, does a student violate University policy simply by breaking up with his girlfriend?
But more importantly, Mike’s column highlights some of the fundamental constitutional problems with these speech codes, which are prevalent on campuses across the nation. For one thing, these policies are so vague and expansive that no one really knows what they can and cannot say. So they tend to be quiet, particularly on controversial issues. For another, these policies penalize people if a listener gets (or pretends to be) offended. Yet the First Amendment exists precisely to protect and foster a robust, unfettered exchange of ideas. The Constitution does not protect people from being offended. And it is high time for universities to prepare their students to live in a free society and to compete in the marketplace of ideas, rather than coddling them (and silencing them) with unconstitutional speech codes.