The Supreme Court’s Morse v. Frederick decision was questionable on several grounds. In upholding a high school’s right to regulate student speech “reasonably regarded as encouraging illegal drug use,” the justices took the student banner “Bong Hits for Jesus” much too seriously. Was it an argument for student access to drugs or a jokey stunt that never should have gotten to the court? Besides the student was displaying the banner off campus, across the street from his school during a school-sponsored welcome for an Olympic procession.
Then there is the issue of general damage to free speech rights. Several free-speech advocates, including David French, then president of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education and now director of the Alliance Defense Fund Center for Academic Freedom, warned that censorship-minded universities would cite the Frederick decision as justification for campus speech codes. That has now happened. Temple University points to Morse v. Frederick as backing for its egregious speech code that prohibits “generalized sexist remarks and behavior.” The goal is to erode the wall between high school youngsters and adults at college, who traditionally enjoy greater free speech rights.
Attorneys for the Alliance Defense Fund filed the case against Temple, now before the court of appeals for the third circuit. FIRE’s amicus brief has been joined by an array of allies, including the ACLU of Pennsylvania, the Christian Legal Society, collegefreedom.org, Feminists for Free Expression, Students for Academic Freedom and the Student Press Law Center. It’s an unusually broad coalition for a college free-speech case.