UK must lead Kentucky in protecting free speech

In the ever-worsening civil liberties climate that Americans face today, our universities must remain a bastion for free speech.

Unfortunately, UK has not lived up to its responsibility to preserve its students’ First Amendment rights.

The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) thoroughly examines university speech codes from around the country and assigns them a rating of “green” (good), “yellow” (not so good), or “red” (bad). Currently, FIRE classifies the UK’s speech codes as “yellow,” meaning they contain “at least one ambiguous policy that too easily encourages administrative abuse and arbitrary application.”

While “yellow” might not seem so terrible, the codes are rife with vague clauses, banning “environment[s] that a reasonable person would consider intimidating, hostile, or offensive,” and prohibiting “activities that result in disturbance or distress to others.”

While the current administration may not choose to enforce these rules in a manner that seriously threatens freedom of expression, what’s to stop future administrators from straying from precedent and severely restricting students’ rights on campus?

This is not to mention the inconvenience and unconstitutionality of relegating all free expression on campus to a tiny, hilly patch of grass.

In order to raise awareness of this issue, UK Young Americans for Liberty will construct a free speech wall in the free speech zone on March 28. (The free speech zone is located just off the patio behind the Student Center.)

Anyone who has a thought they want to get out into the open, no matter how controversial or mundane, is invited to express their sentiments by writing on the wall.

For those who are interested in exploring students’ rights on campus further, FIRE’s Director of Legal and Public Advocacy, Will Creeley, will present a lecture entitled “Free Speech 101” the following Wednesday, April 3, at 6 p.m. in White Hall Classroom Building Room 102.

It’s time for UK to atone for its sins against civil liberties. We must hold the university accountable to its position as Kentucky’s flagship institution, and insist that it lead the way toward freedom of speech, thought, and expression for all by guaranteeing that students at UK can feel safe in expressing their ideals.