Indeed, some universities enacted speech codes so broad that, when taken literally, they are absurd. The University of Maryland's sexual harassment policy, for example , bans "idle chatter of a sexual nature, sexual innuendoes, comments about a person's clothing, body, and/or sexual activities, comments of a sexual nature about weight, body shape, size, or figure, and comments or questions about the sensuality of a person." So, at the University of Maryland, saying "I like your shirt, Brenda" has been a punishable instance of sexual harassment. Further, under Maryland's code the prohibited speech need not address an individual to constitute harassment -- saying "I really like men who wear bow ties" is out of bounds, at least if a man who wears bow ties hears about it.
Moreover, public university censorship has extended well beyond sex discrimination issues. Federal law also bans discrimination in education based on race, religion, veteran status, and other criteria, and universities argued that they needed to censor speech to prevent a hostile environment for groups protected by those laws.
Thursday, August 28, 2003
A writer for Cato says that the Department of Education's ruling protecting free speech from overbroad campus speech codes is the most important statement on freedom of speech since the 1950s.
Posted by Betsy Newmark at 10:30 AM