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Protecting Free Speech On College Campuses


This week, we will be airing an inspiring speech by Tyson Langhofer, Senior Counsel with Alliance Defending Freedom and Director of ADF’s Center for Academic Freedom. This message was delivered at NC Family’s Major Speaker Series Dinner in Charlotte, North Carolina on October 19th.

Tyson Langhofer discusses freedom of speech

Family Policy Matters
Transcript: Protecting Free Speech On College Campuses

TYSON LANGHOFER: What happens on campus does not stay on campus. It moves into the broader culture and we see that happening today. Many of the unconstitutional laws that we are fighting today began as policies on college campuses.

JOHN RUSTIN: This week we’re excited to share with you an excerpt of an inspiring speech given by Tyson Langhofer for at NC Family’s Major Speakers Dinner in Charlotte, North Carolina on October 19th, 2018. Tyson serves as senior counsel with Alliance Defending Freedom and as director of ADF’s Center for Academic Freedom.

TYSON LANGHOFER: As John said, I’m with ADF. I’m the director of the Center for Academic Freedom and at the Center for Academic Freedom, we defend the freedom of speech and association of students and faculty so that everyone can freely participate in the marketplace of ideas without fear of government censorship. Now, when you think about that marketplace of ideas, it sounds like a great concept, right? The Supreme Court has repeatedly referred to our colleges and universities as marketplaces of ideas. In other words, at our universities, you’ll be exposed to all kinds of different ideas, worldviews and different philosophies, and then you get to choose which one you believe is true or correct. Almost every college has some statement on their website discussing how they’re going to provide you a first class education and expose you to different ideas. I want you to imagine you’re a high school senior and you’re in the process of choosing a college. If you’ve attended graduations, which I’m sure you all have, you’ve heard speakers tell them that they can be anything they want to be and to explore their dreams. You go on their websites and after reading their websites and hearing these speeches, you might think: Man, that’s awesome! I can change the world and my school wants to help equip me to change the world! So, you’re all excited to begin your education. You arrive on campus and you’re told that you must attend diversity training. Then the instructor starts talking about gender identity and explains that gender identity is different than biological sex and that sometimes the two don’t match. Just because someone is born a biological male does not mean that his gender identity is male and his gender identity may be male, it may be female, it may be both at the same time or it may be neither. So you think back to the statements on the university’s website about how they want to teach you to think critically and how it’s important to explore all kinds of different ideas and viewpoints and respect different perspectives. So you raise your hand and say: I’m not sure that I agree. I believe that God created humans as male and female and that your biological sex does not change just because you feel something different. I feel like if I’m forced to call a male a female, that I’d be speaking something that’s untrue. I’ll address everyone with respect, but I don’t think that I should be forced to speak something that’s untrue. Instead of someone giving an inspirational speech about how that’s an interesting perspective and let’s dialogue about this, today’s universities are in bad shape. When we get to know them, they’re not what they seem from the outside. We think marketplaces of ideas and bastions of free speech, but in reality they are remarkably closed to the ideas outside of the mainstream liberal campus orthodoxy. The mood on most college campuses is that if you’re offended by something that someone else says or does, you shouldn’t have to be exposed to it. In my daily work, I hear stories like this all the time. I hear about conservative and religious students and faculty members being completely harassed and shouted down for simply speaking a different perspective. If you want to examine an important social issue such as abortion, immigration, same sex marriage or gender identity from a Christian worldview, those views are not welcome.

But this is where we, at ADF Center for Academic Freedom come in. We exist to protect students and faculty’s First Amendment rights of public universities. So in our work, what we see is policies that are used to stifle student speech. So the first one is a speech code. So a speech code is a policy, which essentially prohibits speech that is uncivil or derogatory or hurtful. Now, as John said, I have five kids. And we can all agree we should not engage in uncivil or derogatory or hurtful or demeaning speech, and—I do as I’m sure you do—we can all encourage our kids not to engage in those types of behaviors. But the First Amendment protects uncivil, demeaning and derogatory speech. And the reason it protects such speech is because the determination as to whether speech is uncivil, demeaning, or derogatory is subjective. Everyone’s going to have a different perspective on that and a different opinion on that subject. And as fallible humans, we’re prone to label anything that is different than ours: uncivil, derogatory or demeaning. Thus, we’re more likely to punish speech that we disagree with and what we agree with.

So the First Amendment prohibits and forbids the government from punishing speech based on its content or viewpoint. So, let me give you a real world example. Chike Uzuegbunam. Chike was a student at Georgia Gwinnett College. He loved to share the Gospel. That’s what he did during his free time. He went to an open area of campus and he started sharing the gospel and the university officials said: Hey, you can’t do that. You don’t have permission. You must be in a speech zone. And he’s like, all right, I’ll go to the speech zone. He reserves a speech zone, goes to the speed zone, after he begins preaching in the speech zone, they stop him from speaking. They said: Some students complained and you’re violating the policy, which “prohibits disturbing the peace or comfort of others.” We filed a lawsuit challenging that policy. But here’s  the crazy part about this. The university initially defended the speech code and stated this Chike’s speech—sharing the Gospel—was unprotected speech, like fighting words, and can be prohibited. Now, we quickly disabused them of that notion, and they rejected and removed that position because they knew they were wrong. But it’s amazing that a state government actually put that forth and made that argument. So, the second kind of policy we come into contact with is speech zone policies or prior restraints. So a speech zone is a policy that prohibits students from engaging in the expressive activities in the outdoor areas of campus. And they limit it to… except in a very small zone. But there’s also some policies where they’re just called prior restraints and they basically said: Look, the outdoor areas of campus, you have to have prior permission before engaging in the expressive activities in the outdoor areas of campus. Now these types of policies are unconstitutional because requiring prior permission to engage in speech disables spontaneous and anonymous speech. These types of policies also typically grant university officials discretion to determine who gets to speak and where they get to speak. That type of discretion is forbidden by the First Amendment because it allows the government to regulate speech based on its content or its viewpoint.

I know many of you might be thinking: Well, I’m not in college or I don’t have kids in college, so those don’t issues don’t really affect me. But at the center for academic freedom, we have a saying. What happens on campus does not stay on campus. It moves into the broader culture. And we see that happening today. Many of the unconstitutional laws that we are fighting today began as policies on college campuses.To illustrate this, I’ll briefly discuss five major religious liberty issues that we’re currently fighting in other areas at ADF. So the first issue has to do with creative professionals. Can the government used nondiscrimination laws to force creative professionals and artists who serve all people but will not express all messages to create speech or art that violates their conscience? Now, before I talk about the next category of conscience issues, I want to emphasize a critical distinction at the heart of these cases. It’s the difference between declining to serve people because of who they are and declining to create custom expressive items because of the messages they convey or the event they celebrate. This distinction is the difference between objecting to the WHO that is asking versus the WHAT that is being requested. Creators of expression who object to the requested message should be protected, but those who object to the person should not.These cases are not just about protecting people like Jack who do not support same marriage. If the state has the power to compel speech, it can use it to punish, not just people like Jack, but also those who support same sex marriage. So for example, the government can punish a lesbian graphic designer who refuses to create a flyer for religious that opposing same sex marriage. The consequences of this issue should be concerning to everyone, not only those who hold conservative religious views.

Now, the second conscience issue in the U.S. is an attempt by states to force prolife pregnancy centers to advertise for abortion. Those prolife centers exist to encourage women experiencing unplanned pregnancies to choose life for their babies. [It’s] obviously an affront to those centers’ conscience to force them to point the way to abortion. So, we litigated this issue before the U.S. Supreme Court and we won, thanks to God’s grace. The court made it clear that it is a compelled speech violation for the State of California to force prolife pregnancy centers to point the way to abortion. A number of other states like Hawaii and Illinois have enacted laws similar to California’s, but those laws are all somewhat different, so we need to continue to litigate those cases in order to strike down those laws.

The next set of conscience issues in America involves other concerns facing healthcare professionals like doctors and nurses. There are efforts to force those professionals to violate their conscience while practicing medicine. So three examples: Some governments have tried to force doctors and nurses to participate in abortions contrary to their faith. Second, some governments have enacted laws mandating that pharmacists dispense abortion inducing drugs and violation of their conscience. There are also efforts to force healthcare professionals to perform cosmetic procedures that are part of a person’s efforts to change their sex and gender.

A fourth issue is adoption agencies. Faith based adoption agency. Specifically over the last 15 years, the number of states have forced faith-based adoption agencies, like Catholic Charities, to stop their adoption and foster work on behalf of vulnerable and neglected children. Those states did this because those religious organizations wanted to make child placements according to their faith and because of their religious beliefs about marriage and they were unable to place children in households headed by same sex couples. Now keep in mind that there are countless other adoption agencies in those states that place children with same sex couples. But those states still decided to drive out the faith-based agencies. Reducing the number of agencies that can place kids in loving homes does nothing but hurt the children that the state is supposed to be helping.

And a final issue is pronouns, the issue of pronouns. There are a lot of laws that require people to speak pronouns and similar sex identifying terminology that conflicts with their conscience. New York City has a law that forces employers to use an individual’s preferred name, pronoun, and title regardless of the individual’s sex assigned at birth, anatomy or the sex indicated on the individual’s identification. This two poses a crisis of conscience for people who believe that sex is a fixed biological reality rather than a changeable social construct. We’re going to be filing a lawsuit on behalf of a professor, fairly shortly, that is being punished for violating one of those policies.

So what’s the takeaway from all of this information? Well, as with much of life, there is good news and there’s bad news. The bad news is there are a lot of problems. Our liberties, our faith, our way of life is under attack and the enemy is in it to win it. But here’s the good news. When we show up to fight, we can win. We had two huge victories at the Supreme Court in this last session. Nobody gave us a chance in Masterpiece. We won. We have nine Supreme Court victories in the last seven years. At the Center for Academic Freedom, we won more than 480 victories in the last 12 years and have an almost 90 percent winning percentage. We can win these battles if we as Christians will stand and fight, because we have truth on our side. ADF can’t do this alone and we don’t do this alone. That’s why we’re called the Alliance. We rely on our alliance. We rely on organizations like the North Carolina Family Policy Council to fight those battles in North Carolina and in other states like this across the country. All of those issues I just brought up, they’re all being addressed through state legislation. Those were important, important battles. We rely on people like you to support our work and to be our hands and feet. I know these are not easy battles. But remember, our battle is not against flesh and blood, but against principalities and powers and the rulers of darkness of this world. Do not make political opposition the enemy. They are not our enemy. Abraham Lincoln was the president at one of the most divisive times in our country and he said, “Do I not destroy my enemy when I make him my friend?” So we each have to make a decision. How are we going to respond to the attacks on our freedom in this country? Now I know you all care about liberty and freedom are you wouldn’t be here. I really, really appreciate it and I recognize, the more I’m in this fight, how little I can do and how little ADF can do. We can fight the legal battles, but we’re going to lose in the culture unless we have people like you out there engaging their neighbors, engaging neighborhoods, engaging their churches, and speaking the truth in love. Because we know we are on the side of truth and God said that the gates of Hell will not overcome our church. So thank you for, for what you guys do and I really, really am thankful to be here tonight.

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