“Do you support free speech on campus?”
If you ask any student whether they support free speech, most will say “Yes.” In fact, a recent poll conducted by Young America’s Foundation revealed that 93% of students agreed that it is important to protect free speech.
However, when pressed further on how far they are willing to defend all speech, no matter how offensive it may be to their sensibilities, the numbers quickly change. More than half of liberal young people, 54%, supported some form of censorship to ensure that no one is offended. A Pew poll found similar results, with 40% of millennials saying they are okay with limiting speech that offends others.These results should frighten anyone who supports freedom, but the results should not surprise anyone familiar with the politically correct atmosphere that has controlled American college campuses for decades.Leftist antagonists, along with their willing accomplices in university administrations, have sought time and again to restrict conservative students’ right to voice their opinions. However, Young America’s Foundation has always pushed back against these heavy-handed administrators and liberal bullies and even challenged laws all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court to ensure free speech rights are protected.
A History of Protecting Students’ Rights to Free Speech
During the Foundation’s 1983 National Conservative Student Conference, YAF activists Floyd Brown, Michael Boos, and others led a demonstration against Soviet policies outside the Soviet Union’s Embassy in Washington, D.C. Brown and others present were summarily arrested and charged with attempting to bring the Soviet Union into “disrepute.” Young America’s Foundation did not let these charges go unchallenged—especially when leftist and pro-Communist demonstrations were allowed outside other embassies. The Young America’s Foundation case, Boos v Barry, went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, where the justices finally struck down the D.C. law that prohibited protesting outside of embassies.The Foundation’s battles to protect free speech continued, however. In 1995, the University of Virginia (UVA) refused to fund Foundation activist Ron Rosenberger’s Christian student newspaper, Wide Awake. The school claimed doing so would violate the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.However, the school had already routinely funded other religious groups, including a Muslim student organization and other clubs with religious affiliations. During Rosenberger’s tenure as a member of the Foundation’s staff, the U.S. Supreme Court heard his case and knocked down UVA’s policy that infringed upon the free speech rights of Christians at the University of Virginia.
Bringing Free Speech Advocates to Campus
Since these landmark Supreme Court decisions, Young America’s Foundation has come to the defense of many other students who have had their free speech rights undermined by leftist professors and administrators. Often, we only need to expose the intolerant Left’s actions to the national media. One of the Foundation’s most effective tools in advancing free speech, however, comes in the form of speakers themselves. Young America’s Foundation’s campus lecture program—unmatched by any other conservative organization—brings today’s leading conservative speakers to high school and college campuses where they advocate for the ideas absent (or worse, banned) from most classrooms and campus quads. Our speakers—prominent authors, policy officials, media personalities, and others—challenge the leftist status quo on the campuses they visit. They debunk today’s popular leftist notions, including “safe spaces,” “microaggressions,” and “trigger warnings,” which intimidate students into being silent. These key spokesmen effectively challenge liberal arguments in front of large audiences, giving students, faculty, and administrators opportunities to hear conservative views directly and not through the filter of the mainstream media or the professors themselves. In addition, the large audiences attending Young America’s Foundation’s campus lectures underscore that young people are tired of never-ending liberal indoctrination and eager to hear new ideas. Recently, the Foundation worked with conservative activists at the University of Missouri to rush Ben Shapiro to speak at this embattled campus besieged by leftwing protests. Shapiro, whose speech was part of the Foundation’s Wendy P. McCaw Freedom Lecture series, spoke to a packed audience of more than 400 students on the importance of campus free speech. More than 500,000 have since viewed his engaging address online. More importantly, Shapiro’s speech left the conservative students in attendance with the knowledge, inspiration, and confidence to stand strong for their values in the midst of leftist intolerance.
This spring, Shapiro visited ten college campuses as part of the Foundation’s Fred R. Allen Lecture Series. Nearly ever lecture drew a standing-room-only crowd and thousands of people watched online live streams. Despite leftist attempts to silence the tour, droves of students coast to coast enjoyed the rare opportunity to hear the conservative viewpoint on their campuses.
Free Speech Resources
In addition to our lecture program, Young America’s Foundation is continually developing new resources and materials for students to utilize at their schools. Throughout our history, we have created and sent students compelling posters advocating free speech and highlighting leftist hypocrisy. Young America’s Foundation’s “Campus Free Speech Box” provides students with a variety of materials to help defend their rights to express their values and ideas at their schools. The Foundation’s latest tool, our “Campus Free Speech Box,” is sent to students upon request and includes everything a student club needs to begin promoting free speech. The kit includes flyers, posters, stickers, t-shirts, and pocket-size copies of the United States Constitution for easy distribution on campus. Complementing our many student resources, the Foundation’s program and legal team also work directly with our young activists when liberal administrators, student groups, or professors attack their rights. Additionally, at nearly every Foundation conference and seminar, students receive guidance and training on how to stand up for their rights in the face of hostile campus leftists. All of these activities and resources—from lectures to training to media exposure—ensure our students are not alone in their efforts to advance freedom on their campuses. As Ronald Reagan said, “Young America’s Foundation programs offer invaluable assistance to young men and women searching for the encouragement and understanding necessary to reinforce the values of a free society.” With the help of our thousands of student volunteers and the generous Americans who support our shared cause of freedom, we will continue to offer this necessary assistance to young people nationwide.
This article originally appeared in the Winter 2016 special free speech issue of Libertas.