I am writing in response to the article titled “Exasperating rights of expression” by Mark Newman, which ran in the September 7, 2009, edition of The Temple News.
In the article, Newman states that “Temple’s track record on freedom of speech so far has been relatively unscathed” and that “Limiting free speech has not been a significant problem on Temple’s campus.” In support of these assertions, he points to the diversity of student organizations and community-outreach programs at Temple.
However, Newman’s article ignores the elephant in the room when it comes to Temple’s recent history with free speech on campus: the university’s former speech code, which was struck down by a federal court of appeals just last year.
As any student at Temple should be aware, the university formerly maintained a sexual harassment policy prohibiting much constitutionally protected speech. In August 2008, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit struck down the policy on its face, reasoning that the policy “could conceivably be applied to cover any speech of a gender-motivated nature the content of which offends someone” and therefore that it threatened “‘core’ political and religious speech.”
By maintaining the policy, Temple curtailed its students’ First Amendment rights, chilled campus expression and sent the wrong message about the type of institution it purports to be. In the process, Temple became the second university to have its speech code invalidated by a federal appellate court and joined two decades of case law uniformly striking down unconstitutional speech codes.
Temple thus has a long way to go before it can be considered an exemplary institution under the First Amendment. It needs to demonstrate, through policy and practice, that it is committed to the free exchange of ideas. Only then will the statements made in Newman’s article hold true.
Associate Director of Legal & Public Advocacy Foundation for
Individual Rights in Education