You may have heard that the left is cracking down on free speech. FIRE reports that the thought police at the State University of New York at New Paltz are taking things too far.  There’s at least one professor at New Paltz who probably isn’t complaining.

Samantha Harris has the story.

Speech Code of the Month: SUNY New Paltz

FIRE announces its Speech Code of the Month for October 2012: the State University of New York at New Paltz (SUNY New Paltz).

The university’s “Non-Discrimination/Anti-Harassment Policies & Procedures (PDF),” which apply “to all members of the campus community,” prohibit:

Distribution, display or discussion of any written or graphic material that ridicules, denigrates, insults, belittles, or shows hostility or aversion toward an individual or group because of protected status.

Protected status includes a wide variety of characteristics including sex, sexual orientation, race, religion, and military status. While the university may—indeed must—prohibit actual harassment on the basis of these categories, this policy goes far beyond the legal definition of student-on-student (or peer) harassment and restricts not only protected speech, but core political speech of the sort that lies at the heart of the First Amendment’s protections.

In Davis v. Monroe County Board of Education (1999), the Supreme Court defined peer harassment in the educational context as conduct that is “so severe, pervasive, and objectively offensive, and that so undermines and detracts from the victims’ educational experience, that the victim-students are effectively denied equal access to an institution’s resources and opportunities.” SUNY New Paltz’s policy ignores this carefully tailored standard, which represents the correct balance, legally speaking, between public universities’ dual obligations to prevent harassment and to uphold students’ free speech rights.

By ignoring this standard, SUNY New Paltz’s harassment policy veers dramatically into the territory of speech protected by the First Amendment. Imagine, for example, a religious student explaining his opposition to gay marriage to a group of fellow students debating the issue. Or, alternatively, a gay student expressing why he believes members of a particular religion are wrong to oppose gay marriage. Might those students’ statements “insult” members of the other group?