Free Speech May Lead to Paralysis, Death

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?

Last 5 posts by Ken White


  1. Bruce says

    Is the first line normal on these sort of things?
    For myself, my heirs, successors, executors,

    Are the children of dead people who signed waivers able to bring suits of negligence?

  2. says

    Bruce, I could answer you, but it would be (1) jurisdiction by jurisdiction, (2) full of ifs and buts, (3) deathly boring.

  3. Neal says

    Shall I have my daughter step up to the plate to check out the enforceability? She's enrolled at FRCC for Fall Semester.

  4. mojo says

    1) This is America. The whole god-damned place is a free speech zone.
    2) I ain't signin' shit. Take your waiver and stuff it.

  5. Colton says

    I was just browsing around and i stumbled across this. Granted I haven't yet explored the site itself nor the issue much, I felt obligated to comment.

    Now, I am all for free speech and a hardcore believer in the written word is the law (I support the constitution in its entirety) but I have a itch in my side when I read this.

    I don't understand why making special "Free Speech Zones" is so terrible. I mean sure it can and really does limit your first right to free speech and assembly but is it without cause? I hardly doubt the objective of the institution in question is out to LIMIT or SUPPRESS your rights…

    You have to look at the issue in both lights, if you were allowed to start a protest wherever you wanted in the school there would be many issues arising from that which limit the rights of others. That's why we have permits to protest, not for limitation but to reassure that order will be maintained.

    Also, I personally believe the waiver isn't an excuse for guards to kill you. First reason for this is because even if the guard in the hypothetical trigger happy state does open fire, sure the school can't be held liable but that doesn't mean you're screwed…there is always a higher up until you hit the Supreme Court so I'm sure somebody would be held responsible. Second reason is the most simple. The school is an open public forum yes. As such, they can't take away your first amendment, as we all should know, but if somebody does want to speak out, it is obviously against something that already is or may very well be in the near future. As such, there will be supporters on the other side of the protesters as well and if one becomes violent, the school doesn't want to be held responsible for something you chose to do at your own desire and at your own risk. It's absolutely no different from going to a shooting range or a paintball course and signing a waiver saying if you get hurt, you understand that you can not hold the institution liable…again another "Do at your own risk" subject.

    Again, I am in total support of what this site seems to support but I don't understand how this issue is just that…an issue…

    I am part of the N.C.A.C. if your doubt my intent.