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August 5 2019

Student Newspaper Freedom of Speech Protected Against University's "Safe Space" Sensitivity

by Betsy Pearson

Last week, the 9th circuit reversed a lower court’s dismissal of a free speech lawsuit against the University of California, San Diego (UCSD). With this new ruling, student newspapers have the freedom to publish satirical articles--though it might offend some people. Protecting free speech, and therefore dismantling “safe spaces”,  benefits college students in more ways than one. 

In 2015, The Koala, a comical student run and university funded newspaper, published an article mocking so-called “safe spaces”. The joke was not funny to the politicized college administrators, and they decided to pull funding for The Koala. In the new decision, Judge Morgan Christen explained, “Absent a compelling justification, the government may not exercise its taxing power to single out the press. The taking power is relevant here because UCSD is a public and taxpayer-funded institution.”

Safe spaces have been popping up on college campuses across the nation for years, and it is encouraging to see a First Amendment win against these destructive ideas. 

In fact, “safe spaces” have been found to increase mental health issues. According to cognitive behavioral therapists, “A campus culture devoted to policing speech and punishing speakers [or even student newspapers] is likely to engender patterns of thought that are surprisingly similar to causes of depression and anxiety.” The censoring of speech is doing more harm than good, and the UCSD case is no exception.

Instead of prioritizing destructive “safe spaces” I argue that universities should focus on strengthening their mental health services. The whole idea behind “safe spaces” is that students are either a) easily offended, or b) have emotional responses to real world “triggers” a.k.a. The Koala article--either way, both situations could be properly dealt with on the individual level without restricting the freedom of the masses. 

The recent UCSD ruling could mark the beginning of the toppling of “safe spaces” across college campuses everywhere.

The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) hopes this decision will set the example for other free speech cases, as Washington Examiner reports, “State courts across the country, and other federal courts, may rely on this decision’s reasoning if they find it persuasive--and we hope that they do.”

FIRE’s Director of the Individual Rights Defense Program, Adam Steinbaugh, continued, “Today, the Ninth Circuit made clear that UCSD’s attempted end-run around the First Amendment flatly violated student press rights. The Ninth Circuit’s landmark ruling is a powerful reminder to public university administrators nationwide: You can’t silence students just because you don’t like their sense of humor.”

Let’s hope universities start to focus on less destructive methods of conducting civil discussion on campus without censoring the voice of any student. 

 




Independent Women's Forum is an educational 501(c)(3) dedicated to developing and advancing policies that aren’t just well intended, but actually enhance people’s freedom, choices, and opportunities. IWF is the sister organization of the Independent Women’s Voice.​
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