Speech policy at BU looks good on the surface but there’s a catch.

Samantha Harris reports at the FIRE blog.

Speech Code of the Month: Boston University

FIRE announces its Speech Code of the Month for August 2015: Boston University (BU).

While BU is private, and thus not legally bound by the First Amendment’s guarantees of free speech and expression, the university has committed itself to upholding the expressive rights of students and faculty. Among other things, BU’s Student Responsibilities policy explicitly states that “[w]hen they enter the University, students retain their rights under the laws of society.” Moreover, the university’s Academic Freedom policy refers to BU as “an atmosphere of unfettered free inquiry and exposition.” Given these commitments, students at BU should reasonably be able to expect the same expressive rights that they would enjoy at any of Massachusetts’ public colleges and universities.

Unfortunately, BU’s policies take away the very rights the university guarantees that students will retain. For example, BU’s policy on Tolerance and Religion provides, in relevant part:

In displaying or distributing expressions of opinion, students are expected to show respect for the aesthetic, social, moral, and religious feelings of others upon whom their views may be imposed.

This is a deeply distressing speech code that directly impacts students’ ability to engage in political and social commentary at the university. While respectful discourse may sound like an innocuous requirement, in reality speakers often seek to generate controversy to draw attention to the issues they care about—think, for example, of animal rights activists who hand out literature containing graphic descriptions of slaughterhouses, or pro-life activists who display photos of aborted fetuses.