cover image: Campus Unrest: The Legal Framework


Campus Unrest: The Legal Framework

3 May 2024

The challenge for those persons charged with controlling campus unrest is to safeguard protesters' right to free speech while ensuring that they don't infringe on the equal rights of others. The difficulties are twofold: First, to identify and enforce legitimate limitations on protected speech; and second, to properly delineate those other rights that may not be violated. We begin by examining the First Amendment. It directs that "Congress shall make no law ... abridging the freedom of speech." That text raises two threshold questions. First, it refers to "Congress," thus suggesting that neither state governments nor private colleges are covered. The "state government" issue was resolved in 1868, when the 14th Amendment was ratified. It authorized federal intervention if a state were to abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens, deprive anyone of due process, or deny them equal protection. Essentially, the 14th Amendment applied nearly all provisions in the Bill of Rights to the states. No longer would states be exempt from the First Amendment's assurances of free speech.
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Robert A. Levy

Published in
United States of America

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