Free Speech Gets Reprieve in Winston-Salem
Special Report - January 11, 2008
Officials at Winston-Salem State University (WSSU) have decided to revise a new policy that restricts free speech to a specific area of campus, according to the Winston-Salem Journal. The recently created policy establishes a “free speech zone” on the university campusa breezeway near the university cafeteriawhere students, faculty, staff and off-campus groups can go to hold “unscheduled” protests, demonstrations, speeches and programs. Under the policy, groups wishing to hold events in other public areas of campus, such as the auditorium, are required to notify the university three business days in advance of the event. On January 4, the Foundation for Individual Rights for Education (FIRE)a national civil liberties watchdog groupsent a letter to WSSU officials, denouncing the policy as unclear, overly broad, and unconstitutional. In response to FIRE’s letter, Donald Reaves, chancellor of WSSU, told the Winston-Salem Journal that the policy was not intended to limit free speech and that the university will revise it. FIRE has been involved in similar challenges to university free speech zones across the country, including at UNC Greensboro, which previously had two free speech zones but changed its policy in March 2006.
A 2006 report by FIRE and the John William Pope Center for Higher Education Policy, which examined First Amendment issues on university campuses nationwide, concluded 13 out of the 16 schools in North Carolina’s university system “have at least one policy that both clearly and substantially restricts freedom of speech.” The report also criticized the UNC system for its “particular enmity” towards religious freedom.
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