Charlottesville, Va. — Constitutional attorney John W. Whitehead will be speaking on the “State of the First Amendment on College Campuses” as part of a Constitution Day event at the University of Virginia’s Frank Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy on Thursday, September 14, 2017. Whitehead will be joined by a panel of expert attorneys, moderated by the Batten School’s Dean Allan Stam. Appearing alongside Whitehead will be Azhar Majeed, Vice President of Policy Reform at the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, and Catherine Ross, Fred C. Stevenson Research Professor at the George Washington University Law School.
“For those of us who came of age in the 1960s, college campuses were once the bastion of free speech, awash with student protests, sit-ins, marches, pamphleteering, and other expressive acts showing our displeasure with war, the Establishment and the status quo,” said John W. Whitehead, president of The Rutherford Institute and author of Battlefield America: The War on the American People. “Today, on college campuses across the nation, merely chalking the word that some students find offensive on the sidewalk is enough to have student groups crying foul and labeling it as hate speech in need of censorship. Under the misleading guise of tolerance, civility, love and political correctness, college campuses have become hotbeds of student-led censorship, trigger warnings, microaggressions, and ‘red light’ speech policies targeting anything that might cause someone to feel uncomfortable, unsafe or offended. Sadly, Americans have allowed their fears—fear for their safety, fear of each other, fear of being labeled racist or hateful or prejudiced, etc.—to trump our freedom of speech. In doing so, the American people are muzzling themselves far more effectively than any government edict could.”
The “State of the First Amendment on College Campuses” Constitution Day event at the University of Virginia’s Frank Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy comes at a time when college campuses have become battlegrounds over free speech activities, political correctness and efforts to reconcile the nation’s history with evolving ideas about freedom and equality. For example, in Charlottesville, Va., home to the University of Virginia, a controversy over the removal of a Confederate monument in a public park has led to demonstrations on and off campus. Most recently, a group of UVA students covered a statue of Thomas Jefferson (the University’s founder) with a black shroud and a sign declaring “TJ is a racist.” Elsewhere, across the country, protesters have frequently disrupted or halted controversial speakers whose views they find offensive—in some cases, the protests have turned violent—forcing campus administrators and legislators to revisit the role of the First Amendment on college campuses and where to draw the line between free speech and speech that harasses or threatens.