U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos lived up to her longstanding vow to protect the First Amendment on our nation’s college campuses this week with a new and improved final rule that will hold universities accountable for their violations of free speech. With the final version of the Improving Free Inquiry, Transparency, and Accountability at Colleges and Universities guidance, DeVos is letting the world of academia know – under no uncertain terms – that upholding the Constitution isn’t optional as long as President Trump is in the White House.
“Under the Supreme Court’s First Amendment jurisprudence protecting the individual’s right to his own ideas and beliefs, ‘no official, high or petty, can prescribe what shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion, or other matters of opinion or force citizens to confess by word or act their faith therein.’ As a result, officials at public institutions may not abridge their students’ or employees’ expressions, ideas, or thoughts,” the rule states.
“Academic freedom’s noble premise is that the vigilant protection of free speech unshackled from the demands and constraints of censorship will help generate new thoughts, ideas, knowledge, and even questions and doubts about previously undisputed ideas,” the rule continues. “Although academic freedom’s value derives itself from the fact that its ‘results . . . are to the general benefit in the long run,’ academic freedom is also inherently important in a free society.”
The rule, as delivered to universities by the Department of Education, will command that public colleges find their peace with the First Amendment – no matter how painful it might be. If they don’t want to comply with the dictums outlined by the rule, they may no longer be eligible for federal grants as determined by a court of law.
DeVos was careful to assure religious colleges and universities that they would retain the right to curtail speech in conjunction with their beliefs.
“Religiously affiliated institutions, in freely exercising their faith, may define their free speech policies as they choose in a manner consistent with their mission,” the announcement says. “The final regulations do not mandate that religiously affiliated institutions adopt any particular policies in order to participate in the Department’s grants and programs. In other words, the final regulations do not require any private institution to adopt a campus free speech policy that complies with the First Amendment, and the Department cannot force any religiously affiliated school to compromise the free exercise of its religion.”
In the era of cancel culture and universities increasingly choosing for their students which forms of speech are okay and which forms are “offensive,” this is an important rule to put in place. There was once a time when liberals would have been at the forefront of championing such guidance. Sadly, we’re long past that point now.