Thank God for the University of Colorado, which maintains freedom in a nationwide academic culture increasingly hostile to Western civilization and the United States — the world’s engines of diversity and tolerance.
The university’s flagship campus in Boulder received a “Green Light” last week, the highest rating granted by the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education. The organization, known as F.I.R.E., annually rates about 500 colleges and universities for their dedication to upholding protections of the First Amendment and the rest of the Bill of Rights. Only 55 institutions have “Green Light” status. F.I.R.E. rated only Boulder's flagship campus this year, but policies that caused CU’s “Green Light” apply at the campuses in Colorado Springs, Denver and Aurora.
Working with F.I.R.E., CU revised seven policies pertaining to residence hall handbooks, information technology, the “bias incident policy,” and the use of facilities.
Only last year, CU’s Colorado Springs campus infringed upon the First Amendment rights of the Ratio Christi student group because the members required those seeking leadership positions to agree with Christian tenets. University administrators treated the policy as discriminatory and punished members by denying the group funding and administrative recognition. The Gazette found multiple examples of the university allowing similar policies by non-Christian groups.
Ratio Christi sued and CU wisely settled, agreeing to a systemwide policy that allows organizations to restrict leadership to individuals who support any group’s charter. Without the constitutionally protected freedom to associate, which requires the freedom to disassociate, people cannot organize around shared interests. Without policies that respect this fundamental freedom, a vegan animal-rights group would have to welcome trophy hunters who could elect one of their own to lead the club.
When the Colorado Board of Regents announced its selection of then-University of North Dakota President Mark Kennedy as the CU president last year, his commitment to diversity — or potential lack thereof — became the highest concern among critics. Kennedy persuaded a member of The Gazette’s editorial board he would enhance ethnic, racial, religious, intellectual, academic and all other forms of diversity.
Our bigger concern, by far, was Kennedy’s commitment to the First Amendment. Kennedy erased concerns by telling us he had enacted policies that landed North Dakota a “Green Light” rating from F.I.R.E.
Kennedy promised to pursue the rating at CU. He delivered with great assistance from Regent Chance Hill, who represents Colorado Springs and the rest of the Fifth Congressional District, and a few others.
We cannot protect diversity, the environment, or anything else we value without first upholding the First Amendment. It is the First Amendment that forces a public university to treat Muslims, Jews, Catholics, Protestants and those of all other beliefs the same. It is the First Amendment that ensures Black Lives Matter, an LGBTQ-rights activist, a socialist, Republican, Democrat, Klansman, or Greenpeace volunteer the same right to speak and assemble peaceably for the free exchange of ideas — no matter how outrageous they might sound.
Some of the most mainstream and establishment ideas on campus today — think, “United States evil and racist” or “defund the police” — began as radical, unthinkable concepts one could share only because of the First Amendment.
Sadly, our K-12 and higher education institutions seldom teach this concept to the young. Few teach students how to think, preferring to teach them what to think. As such, we have throngs among young generations who think “diversity” is more important than the fundamental freedom that facilitates it. Increasing numbers of students believe the First Amendment protects only haters and hate speech; not the generations of activists who fought against hatred by sharing ideas that challenged segregation, slavery, transphobia, and countless establishment mores that seem absurd today.
Students taught what to think, instead of how to think, don’t get the intractable link between woke leftism and the Constitution that protects their right to promote it. They’ll easily assume we can protect “good” speech from “bad” speech they don’t like, not understanding how their ideas were consider considered bad — very, very bad — not so long ago.
Oppressive campus speech codes, free-speech zones, and other abuses of fundamental freedom are ubiquitous throughout the country. The First Amendment forces tolerance on those who prefer a one-size-fits-all code of morality, despite the obvious fact moral fashion changes by the season. So it should come as no big shock that a poll by the Campaign for Free Speech last year found 51% of Americans think the First Amendment is outdated; 48% support outlawing “hate speech.” That means we could outlaw insulting the police, questioning the existence of God or a goddess, “OK, boomer,” or kneeling to the flag — expressions some consider hateful, harmful and mean. “Hate” is in the eye of the beholder.
Free speech is the lubricant that protects competing ideas that cause social friction. It is neither a tool of the left nor the right, but a fundamental, green-light component of human advancement. It allows limitless factions to function in a nation of diversity. If we rush to the future without free speech, expect civility, diversity, tolerance, and progress to seize like a motor without oil. We will long for the day when we were free to be you and me.
The Gazette Editorial Board