As part of their crusade to reform censorious and lawless policies on college campuses across America, the FIRE offers up a "Speech Code of the Month," in hopes that exposure will shame colleges into compliance with fundamental free speech principles — or at least spur action by students, alumni, and critics.
This month's entry made me laugh out loud at the loutishness of the policy. Front Range Community College in Colorado — a state institution, bound by the First Amendment — has adopted one of those appallingly prevalent "free speech zone" approaches, confining protest and other expression to limited areas chosen by the college. That's bad enough — and very likely unconstitutional. But that's not what made me laugh.
What made me laugh is that Front Range Community College wants you to know that the price of you exercising your First Amendment rights in a state-owned forum is waiving the right to redress if you are killed, paralyzed, or otherwise abused as a result of the College's negligence:
For myself, my heirs, successors, executors, I hereby knowingly and intentionally waive and release, indemnify and hold harmless the college, Front Range Community College (FRCC), The State Board for Community College and Occupational Education, The State of Colorado, trustees, officers, employees, agents and volunteers from and against all claims, actions, causes of action, liabilities, suits, expenses and NEGLIGENCE of any kind of nature arising directly or indirectly out of any damage, loss, injury, paralysis or death in connection with my participation in this activity at FRCC and/or use of this equipment and to waive all claims for damages or losses against the state, the Board or the college which may arise from such activities.
As a new strategy for speech suppression, this is brilliant. Want to protest at this government-owned public forum? Fine. But you should know some of the guards we hired have itchy trigger fingers, and sometimes the gardeners leave pit traps with feces-smeared punji sticks, and we're not going to protect you from violent counter-protesters, and you have to sign a waiver that we're not liable for any of that. Where is your First Amendment now?
FIRE doesn't analyze the enforceability of the waiver. Suffice it to say plaintiffs' lawyers reading it are drooling right now.
FIRE does explore all the other ways Front Range Community College's policy on expression is ridiculously, patently unconstitutional. Sometimes you have to ask — who drafts these things? Did their counsel review it? Has their counsel read any First Amendment cases whatsoever? Does their counsel have a debilitating head injury, or some sort of tenure?