ACLU: UNC Policy Could Chill Free Speech Rights
CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – The University of North Carolina Board of Governors is expected to vote today on a new policy to regulate speech on the UNC system’s 17 campuses.
The American Civil Liberties Union of North Carolina is concerned that the changes could chill First Amendment rights because they include increased penalties for anyone who “disrupts” campus speech, but the language does not narrowly define what type of behavior will be considered disruptive.
In a November letter, the civil liberties group asked the Board to narrow the language in the policy and remove its harsh disciplinary recommendations – changes that have not been made.
“The First Amendment protects both the right of controversial figures to speak on public campuses, and the right of others to peacefully protest those speakers,” said Susanna Birdsong, Policy Counsel for the ACLU of North Carolina. “Because of its overly broad language, UNC’s policy runs the risk of punishing people for constitutionally protected activities – an ironic outcome for a policy supposedly designed to protect free speech and free expression. Rather than restricting free speech, the UNC Board of Governors should foster an environment where all voices are heard and competing viewpoints can be aired without fear of punishment or expulsion.”
The new policy, which comes at a time when students across the country are pushing back against racist speech on their campuses, calls for extreme punishment— including suspension and expulsion— for anyone who disrupts a campus speech. Peaceful protesters chanting outside an event being held in a campus building could be shut down and face harsh consequences, not for blocking an entrance or shouting violent threats, but for simply chanting loudly outside. And if any of the protesters had violated the policy before, they would face a harsher punishment that could include suspension or expulsion.
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