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Free speech clashes with safe spaces on college campuses

Jul 1, 2016

A group says free speech is threatened on college campuses.

FIRE, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, rates colleges and universities based on how they restrict free speech.

Its mission is “to defend and sustain individual rights at America’s colleges and universities.”

That includes protecting freedom of speech, freedom of the press, due process and more.

Shelby Emmett, Legal and Legislative Policy Advocate for FIRE, said she views the group as an “empowerment organization for students.”

But one argument against FIRE’s mission is that speech can be offensive. Many colleges and universities want their campuses to be safe spaces, where people who are often oppressed in society can feel more secure.

Emmett disagrees with that argument.

“Public institutions have an obligation under the First Amendment, and the First Amendment doesn’t say you have freedom of speech so long as it’s not offensive,” she said.

That means all speech, provided it doesn’t rise to illegal behavior, should be protected on college campuses, Emmett says.

“If you’re offended by it, that’s just par for the course,” she said.

To hear more of this conversation, listen above.

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Shelby Emmett is legal and legislative
policy advocate for FIRE, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education