By L.A. Williams
Christian Action League
December 21, 2017
While it can’t guarantee that North Carolina public university students will abide by the biblical admonition to be “quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry,” a free speech policy adopted by the UNC Board of Governors should help prevent disruptions of speakers and meetings.
“Free speech is a two-way street, and certainly there is a place for disagreement and even protests,” said the Rev. Mark Creech, executive director of the Christian Action League. “But the atmosphere that has been created on some of the nation’s campuses, where speakers refuse invitations because they fear they will be attacked or shouted down, is counterproductive for everyone. That’s why we’re glad to see this new policy in the UNC system.”
The rules, effective immediately, allow unfettered free speech, as long as the expression “is lawful and does not materially and substantially disrupt the functioning of the constituent institution.”
Violators — those who engage in what state law defines as disorderly conduct or trespassing or who violate a chancellor’s curfew or protest in a way that infringes on the rights of others to listen to expressive activity — will be subject to discipline by the university. Second violations trigger an automatic suspension; and third violations could lead to expulsion.
The policy was formed as a result of the Campus Free Speech Act, passed by the N.C. Legislature in July. That law, aimed at ensuring “free, robust and uninhibited debate and deliberation by students” required the Board of Governors to adopt a policy that would guarantee “the fullest degree of intellectual freedom and free expression” on campus. It called for a number of checks and balances, including the right of students accused of a violation to receive written notice of the charge, to be able to review evidence and to call witnesses, and the right to counsel as they face a disciplinary hearing.
“Free speech is always a balancing act,” the Rev. Creech said. “No doubt students who show up on a college campus will likely hear things they agree with and some things they don’t.”
In fact, the new state law, H527-v-6, points out that “it is not the proper role of any constituent institution to shield individuals from speech protected by the First Amendment, including, without limitation, ideas and opinions they find unwelcome, disagreeable, or even deeply offensive.”
Creech said part of the purpose of higher education is to help students learn “how, when and where to express their disagreement.”
“The right to dissent is the complement of the right to participate in expressive activity, but these rights need not occupy the same forum at the same time,” reads the policy. “The constituent institutions are encouraged to work with students, faculty members, and staff employees to develop alternative approaches so as to minimize the possibility of disruptions and support the right to dissent.”
In addition to the new policy, the legislature ordered the Board of Governors to form a Committee on Free Expression that will meet each year to review reports on barriers to free speech and examine how campuses are handling any disruptions.