Freedom of Speech: Legal Implications

By Spencer Mann, Trending Writer

Academia, in its most pure form, is the intellectual expression of knowledge in a structured, success-oriented manner. The irony of this tradition is that speech is sometimes limited in the effort to promote the highest level of academic expression. Despite the central goal of academic achievement, all ends of the spectrum are filled with an astounding array of beliefs on how speech affects this greater accomplishment. A majority of the related activism seeks a change to current institutions, no matter which direction it aims.

The most important consideration to take to this topic is that free speech on college campuses is not just an isolated motif presented by participants on fringe ends of the political spectrum. In fact, it is an issue so closely tied to our everyday politics that its consequences will shape our country at its most core components.

One crucial characteristic of this topic is that the phrase “free speech” holds a very powerful, patriotic message that frames the way one contemplates this debate. One cannot remove this dominant theme from any American that participates in any college-related free speech discourse. At the center of our understanding of the Bill of Rights, Americans recognize the government’s limits to prohibiting expression. Since the days of flying “Don’t Tread on Me” flags, our predecessors have placed such tumultuous significance on the government’s power to constrain our speech.

To separate one’s American-based understanding of free speech from the discussion of speech on college campuses requires one to understand that our First Amendment rights do not directly apply to an educational institution. Any given organization is granted its own sense of sovereignty, just as a barber shop or movie theater. However, we do not hear discussions of barber shops inhibiting on given freedoms. It is accurate that intellectual thought predominantly occurs at academic institutions, making it a target for criticism, as some topics of study are deemed more sensitive than others. With that said, the legality does not change, unless there is explicit reason to say so.

When some institution gains its sovereignty or rights to function within American law, it also is subject to that same law. As an institution with these given freedoms, the government may not be obligated to provide monetary support. For example, in over thirteen states legislation has been enacted that prevents any university from supporting the Boycott, Divest, Sanctions (BDS) movement in its financial decisions if the institution wants to continue to receive government funding. While this is contested legislation by activist groups, these actions by our government show just how significant free speech on college campuses is to our global politics.

In fact, the only clarity that we receive when looking at the topic of speech in college communities is that both sides of the scale believe that the other’s beliefs are inhibiting the best possible academic achievement.

A version of this article appeared in the Tuesday, November 22nd print edition.

Contact Spencer at


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