Justice Department fights restrictions on freedom of thought and speech at public colleges

The Trump administration thrust itself into the midst of the battle over free speech on college campuses Tuesday, siding with activists in a case challenging a Georgia school’s strict limits on where and how students can express themselves. Attorney General Jeff Sessions warned that freedom of thought and speech are “under attack” on college campuses, and he called on university officials to “boldly and unequivocally” defend free expression rather than stifle it. “The American university was once the center of academic freedom — a place of robust debate, a forum for the competition of ideas,” Mr. Sessions said as he spoke to students at Georgetown Law School in Washington. “But it is transforming into an echo chamber of political correctness and homogenous thought, a shelter for fragile egos.” While the attorney general said the problems concern all sides of the political spectrum, the case in which the Justice Department sought to intervene involved a Christian student who challenged Georgia Gwinnett College’s “free speech zone” policy. Chike Uzuegbunam said the school violated his First Amendment rights when officials told him he could not distribute flyers about his Christian faith unless he did so in one of the school’s two “free speech expression areas,” and even then he would be required to get advance approval. The Justice Department filed a statement of interest in the case, which allows government attorneys to weigh in on legal matters presented without being party to the lawsuit. The department said the college’s speech policies “were not content-neutral, established an impermissible heckler’s veto, and were not narrowly tailored to achieve a compelling government interest.”

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