Almost 1,000 students have signed a petition pledging to respect free speech on US campuses – even as university officials continue to tighten restrictions on speech.
An online pledge being circulated commits students to “engage with opposing perspectives”, and accept “objectionable and even deeply offensive” speech as the price of freedom.
The document – Statement of Principles: Free Expression on Campuses – had attracted 971 signatures at the time of writing, growing from an initial 22 earlier this month.
It comes as students find it increasingly difficult to express certain ideas on campus – shown most clearly in the string of cancellations of conservative speakers.
Milo Yiannopoulos, Ann Coulter and Ben Shapiro have all been stopped from addressing students. In Yiannopoulos’s case, he was confronted by violent protest.
In response, some campuses have been tightening restrictions on speakers and making it harder for students to host events.
At DePaul university in Chicago – where Yiannopoulos gave a controversial speech last year – a new regime of speak vetting has been put in place.
A supposedly temporary regime under which campus officials decide whether speakers are too controversial has been extended, according to the DePaulia Online campus news site.
Student groups at the University of Southern California and at Berkeley – site of the Yiannopoulos riots – have also reported difficulty inviting speakers because of expensive and bureaucratic new burdens placed on speech events.
Here is the central passage from the petition:
A central purpose of education is to teach students to challenge themselves and engage with opposing perspectives. Our ability to listen to, wrestle with, and ultimately decide between contending viewpoints fosters mutual understanding as well as personal and societal growth. The active defense of free and open discourse is crucial for our society to continue to thrive as a democracy premised on the open debate of ideas.
The only way to achieve this is by cultivating a culture where all are free to communicate without fear of censorship or intimidation. While some speech may be objectionable and even deeply offensive, constitutionally protected speech ought to be held and enforced as the standard and must not be infringed upon.
Their statement echoes Vice President Mike Pence, who defended free speech and attacked “safe space” culture in a speech to graduates at the University of Notre Dame in South Bend, Indiana.
Despite Pence urging them to tolerate their political opposites, and try to exchange ideas, about 150 people walked out of the ceremony.