Over the past few years, college campuses – which were once hotbeds of free and open discussion – have become home to restrictive speech codes and aggressive tone policing.

In an uncomfortable and ironic chain of events, the generation of students that fought oppressive speech regulations in the 60s has joined the ranks of university administrators. They have turned their backs on the principles of free speech that they once so adamantly defended. Under their direction, college campuses that used to encourage top minds to intensely and vigorously debate all sides of an issue, have eroded into places of enforced conformity and mealy-mouthed politeness.

They claim their goal is to protect all students from offense and discomfort. And, without further investigation, this can seem like a reasonable goal. Indeed,why should even the most repugnant ideas receive the same freedom of expression as more accepted ones?

For defenders of individual freedom, the answer is easy: Diversity of opinion and the ability to voice that opinion fulfills a vital function of civil society and democracy. Rather than giving in to the desire to simply ban any speech we do not like, we should first reflect and realize that not long ago it was once “offensive” to openly campaign for civil rights, equality under the law, and other classical liberal values. Deciding what is and isn’t offensive, or appropriate, or worthwhile, is basically impossible, and certainly too difficult to be left up to school administrators with one-size-fits-all solutions.

Even today, in many places where SFL operates, oppressive regimes violently criminalize those who speak against them – those governments too believe their restrictions serve the public good.

Furthermore, free speech and expression create a marketplace of ideas – sometimes stimulating thoughts far from the content of the original speech. Limiting free speech doesn’t just violate the rights of the person speaking. It violates the rights of others in the audience to listen and – hopefully – to learn and offer counterpoints.

Every time you silence the opinion of someone else, you make yourself a prisoner of your own perspective, denying the possibility of learning something new. Your own right to hear new ideas and struggle with them is as important a consideration in the fight for free speech as the right of someone else to voice their viewpoint. That is the message we at Students For Liberty are trying to bring to college campuses with our “Speak Freely” activism grant which we are pleased to announce today.

We need your help to help spread this message of intellectual openness and free expression on campus. Student leaders can apply, from now until April 30th, for a $250 reimbursement for any activism related to free speech and free expression.

 

This could include:

  • Host a screening of Tickling Giants

  • Distributing SFL’s #SpeakFreely pamphlet on campus

  • Hosting a free speech ball/wall event

  • Hosting a free expression open mic night, photo/art display, or slam poetry night

  • Host a controversial protest (gun rights, etc.)

  • Organizing a letter or petition to your university’s administration about free speech codes

  • Monitoring and “policing” your campus’ free speech zone to show its absurdity

  • Tabling on campus on the issue of free speech

  • Hosting a speaker on campus

If you are looking to help promote free speech apply today to receive an activism grant! Here are the guidelines for how to apply and qualify for the activism grant.

 
 

Tickling Giants

Free speech is important not only here in North America, but around the world. The documentary “Tickling Giants” follows the story of Bassem Youssef, “Egypt’s Jon Stewart.”

Following the Arab Spring and in need of a laugh, Youssef left heart surgery to try his hand at comedy. "Al Bernameg,” the first political satire show in Egypt, had 30 million weekly viewers. The film shows that comedy can be cathartic. This movie shows people who fight oppression with their jokes, not their fists. More info can be found at TicklingGiants.com.

  • Click here to apply for an impact grant, which will cover the cost of a license to screen the film on your campus. You’ll also receive support from the film team in planning and executing your event. More details on the grant and its requirements can be found at the link above.

  • Make sure to mention Students For Liberty in field under “How did you learn about this Impact Grant?”

  • Not only can you get the impact grant to buy the license and run the event from Causementary, you can use your Speak Freely grant to help promote the screening on your campus!

 

Speak Freely Flyer

Students For Liberty has created a free speech flyer especially for this campaign. The flyer is a modern take on the work of J.S. Mill, John Milton and Thomas Paine. You can use your stipend to print and distribute this flyer on campus. As you distribute the flyers, be sure to take lots of pictures of this handy resource at your college!

See a preview to the right and click the image to download.