I don't want to see America turned into Venezuela–but I love that Bernie Sanders is giving "Queen" Hillary Clinton a run for her money.
So I'm delighted that the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) is going to bat for a bunch of Bernie-supporting Georgetown Law School students whom the school has banned from distributing their Sanders campaign material on campus.
As the presidential nomination season officially kicks off today in Iowa, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) is asking one school in the nation’s capital to act quickly to revisit policies that restrict students from engaging in political speech on behalf of their chosen candidates.
Today, FIRE wrote to Georgetown University Law Center asking it to revise its policy governing partisan political speech. The school has prevented a group of students supporting Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders from handing out campaign materials on campus, incorrectly claiming that the school’s tax-exempt status requires this limitation.
“Every campaign season, FIRE sees private colleges erroneously tell students that they can’t campaign for their candidate because it would threaten the school’s tax exemption,” said FIRE Senior Program Officer Marieke Tuthill Beck-Coon. “That’s just not correct. As the IRS has made clear, and as FIRE has emphasized repeatedly throughout the years, nonprofit restrictions on political campaigning apply to the institution itself, not to students or student groups.”
Here's what's happened:
In September 2015, law student Alexander Atkins requested a table reservation in Georgetown Law’s McDonough Hall so he and his group could display and distribute materials supportive of Sanders, as well as inform other students about voting in the upcoming primaries. Georgetown Law’s Office of Student Life (OSL) denied the request because it was “in support of a specific candidate.” The following month, on the day of a Democratic primary debate, several students sat at an outdoor table on campus displaying Sanders posters, distributing campaign literature, and offering information about the primaries. The students were asked by OSL representatives to stop their activity, as Georgetown Law policy prohibited campaign-related activities on campus.
After these two incidents, Atkins reached out to the coordinator of student organizations via email and was informed that Georgetown Law’s “Student Organization Policy on Partisan Political Activities” prohibited campaign activity, and that as a tax-exempt institution, Georgetown University does not allow campaigning and campaign activity on campus.
As FIRE points out, Georgetown University, although a private institution that isn't required to abide by the First Amendement, actually has a strongly worded "Speech and Expression Policy":
"Free speech" is central to the life of the university….More is better. Discourse is central to the life of the university. To forbid or limit discourse contradicts everything the university stands for. This conviction proceeds from several assumptions. Besides those sketched above, there is the assumption that the exchange of ideas will lead to clarity, mutual understanding, the tempering of harsh and extreme positions, the softening of hardened positions and ultimately the attainment of truth. Some ideas, simply by being expressed, sink without a trace; others cry out for the intervention of reflection, contrary evidence, probing questions. None of that happens when one cuts off discourse. John Henry Newman's formulation applies here: "flagrant evils cure themselves by being flagrant." The remedy for silly or extreme or offensive ideas is not less free speech but more.
Most of the free-speech controversies FIRE gets involved in have to do with politically correct college administrators censoring material deemed offensive to the left–such as the Colorado College student suspended for making a six-word arguably racist joke on Yik Yak
Or the student satirical newspaper at the University of California-San Diego that was defunded for using "offensive and hurtful language."
But FIRE is an equal-opportunity defender of campus rights, I'm proud to point out.
And there couldn't be a better left-wing cause than turning Queen Hillary's expected coronation into a neck-and-neck race.
Go, Bernie! May your Georgetown Law supporters get to hand out those campaign fliers by the truckload!