Despite constitutional guarantees, the rights to speak freely and to freely associate on college campuses are in peril. At an increasing rate, campus speech codes impose burdens ranging from a chilling effect to outright censorship of communication. The Lone Star State is not immune from this troubling trend. The Legislature should re-affirm the state’s commitment to open and robust dialogue on college campuses, including speech some may find offensive.
Interacting with students from different walks of life who hold different views on a broad array of topics is one of the many benefits of higher education, and students should not be sheltered from or denied that opportunity because the views of some students are unpopular or controversial. To achieve these ends, the Texas Legislature should consider passing a law similar to those passed in Missouri and Virginia, and force public colleges and universities to revise their speech codes in order to conform with the U.S. and Texas constitutions.
Ultimately, passing laws to protect free speech is only the first step in ensuring that our society does not neglect the concept. Albert Einstein realized that “[l]aws alone cannot secure freedom of expression; in order that every man may present his views without penalty, there must be a spirit of tolerance in the entire population.”1 Ultimately, as George Orwell noted, freedom of speech – the cornerstone of our democracy – must be valued by the populace or not at all:
" The relative freedom which we enjoy depends of public opinion. The law is no protection. Governments make laws, but whether they are carried out, and how the police behave, depends on the general temper in the country. If large numbers of people are interested in freedom of speech, there will be freedom of speech, even if the law forbids it; if public opinion is sluggish, inconvenient minorities will be persecuted, even if laws exist to protect them. "
The public opinion of the future is being shaped by today’s professors and student bodies – and they have shown an alarming disinclination to maintaining a free society, one that does not punish opinions departing from the prevailing liberal orthodoxy. If a free society is to endure, our laws, society, and culture must do everything possible to restore free speech on campus.