Report: CofC, other SC colleges violating freedom of speech rights

CHARLESTON, SC (WCSC) - Policies at South Carolina colleges, including the College of Charleston, are restricting freedom of speech rights for students, according to a new report.

The report was authored by Laura Beltz from the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE).

In the report, FIRE assigns a “red light” rating to the College of Charleston and several other colleges in South Carolina.

A “red light” rating is the worst rating a college can receive.

According to FIRE’s website, a school given a “red light” rating “has at least one policy that both clearly and substantially restricts freedom of speech.”

The report cites the following section from the College of Charleston’s student code of conduct as the reason for the negative rating: “Verbal abuse, defined as use of derogatory terms, foul or demeaning language, which may be accompanied by a hostile tone or intense volume of delivery.”

"The College of Charleston’s Student Code of Conduct bans the ‘use of derogatory terms' and ‘foul or demeaning language,’ but these are exceedingly broad and subjective terms that include constitutionally protected speech,” author Laura Beltz said. “The Supreme Court has held, in rulings spanning decades, that speech may not be restricted merely because it has offended listeners, and has further held that public colleges are legally bound to protect students’ free speech.”

According to Beltz, South Carolina schools do not fare well compared to national ratings of how colleges handle free speech.

“Across the country, 28.5 percent of the college in our Spotlight database earn our worst, ‘red light’ rating for clearly and substantially restricting free speech in officially policy,” Beltz said. “South Carolina is one of just two states where all rated college earn the red light rating.”

The University of South Carolina, Clemson University, Coastal Carolina University and Furman University all join the College of Charleston with “red light” ratings.

In response to the recent ratings, a spokesperson from the College of Charleston referenced a section from the student handbook.

“A fundamental value inherent in a liberal arts education is that of intellectual freedom of expression,” the handbook reads in part. “We must recognize, however, that there will be times when the fundamental values of freedom from discrimination or harassment will intersect with those of freedom of expression.”

Back in August, two students sued the College of Charleston after they say the school would not allow them to create a new student group on campus.

The lawsuit claims the college violates the students’ right to free speech.

Beltz said schools that received red or yellow ratings should review their policies and consider revising them to adhere to the First Amendment.

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