Thursday, November 20, 2003

Which is the first liberty in the First Amendment? 

Do you know? You're not alone. A survey for FIRE done by the Center for Survey Research and Analysis at U.Conn shows that (put them in a bowl!) only 6% of university administrators and 2% of students could remember the order of the liberties of the First Amendment. Less than a third of students thought that religious individuals should spread their beliefs "by whatever legal means they choose." This is instructive in this discussion of a public expression policy, since one of the public expressions under scrutiny is the presence of evangelists on the Atwood Mall. This one student didn't like it.
About 200 students gathered in Atwood to listen to (or mock) a man dressed as a priest and toting a Bible. He ranted and raved as students lollygagged to class.

Now, I support our right to free speech and think that everybody deserves to be heard.

However, the reason Atwood Mall is such a prime location for those targeting students is because hundreds of people have to walk through there everyday to get to their destination.

In the same fashion that smoking areas were established for the respect of non-smokers who have to walk into Stewart Hall, students should be free from harassment because they have to walk through the area. Because it is impossible not to hear and see the solicitors ranting while passing through, students are forced to listen to it. People can always turn off their radios or televisions when unwanted ads infest their homes, but in the mall it is unavoidable. There should be a way to �turn off� or remove out-spoken, threatening presences.

We should be able to draw the line between freedom of expression and harassment so that anyone who is being a nuisance can be removed from the premise.
Other items reported from the survey:
  • 24 percent of administrators believe they have the legal right to prohibit a student religious group from actively trying to convert students to its religion.
  • 49 percent of administrators at private universities and 34 percent of administrators at public universities report that students at their institutions must undergo mandatory non-curricular programs, "the goal of which is to lead them to value all sexual preferences and to recognize the relativity of these values compared to the values of their upbringing."
The fight for religious liberty is being carried forward by FIRE in many places. Parents and students wanting to know what their rights are, and how they are threatened, are encouraged to the FIRE Guide to Religious Liberty on Campus.

UPDATE: Cf. Joanne Jacobs.