Survey: Many College Students Fuzzy on First Amendment Rights

Black Issues in Higher Education, January 1, 2004 | Go to article overview

Survey: Many College Students Fuzzy on First Amendment Rights


PHILADELPHIA

One out of four college students in a nationwide survey was unable to name any of the freedoms protected by the First Amendment, according to a free-speech watchdog group.

"These survey results are disheartening, but they unfortunately are not surprising," says Alan Charles Kors, president of the nonprofit Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE).

Even among campus administrators who were surveyed, from presidents to assistant deans, 11 percent couldn't name any specific First Amendment rights, the survey indicated.

And when asked which freedom the amendment addresses first, only 2 percent of the students and 6 percent of the administrators correctly named freedom of religion, Philadelphia-based FIRE said.

"It's very depressing. Now we can see the reason why we are so overwhelmed with cases," says Thor L. Halvorssen, chief executive officer of the nonprofit group.

FIRE backs many challenges of campus restrictions on religious freedoms. In one recent case, the group wrote a letter on behalf of a Christian women's housing group at Purdue University that was told it must adopt a "nondiscrimination" clause saying it wouldn't consider sex or religious beliefs in choosing its members. Purdue agreed to exempt religious groups.

In another case, an attorney supported by FIRE filed suit against Rutgers University, which had said the InterVarsity Multiethnic Christian Fellowship couldn't take religious beliefs into account in selecting its leaders. In a settlement, the university agreed that students could associate on the basis of shared beliefs.

The group has also backed lawsuits challenging campus conduct codes, such as one that barred "acts of intolerance including racist, sexist and homophobic speech" at Shippensburg University, and policies setting aside "free-speech zones" at schools including Texas Tech University and Citrus College in California. …

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