7 February, 16:11

US universities violate students' First Amendment right, ban free speech - activist

According to a new report by the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education rules imposed in most US education establishments ban students from openly expressing their views.

After a thorough analysis of schools’ speech codes, the organization rated each in one of three categories. Over 250 US schools receive red light rating this year which means that First Amendment right are highly violated there. Ibrahim Halloum, a student at Arizona State University, proactive in human rights advocacy, talked on the issue with the VoR.

I want to hear your comments about this newly released report. As a follower question to that - how do American universities or colleges ban their students from expressing their opinion and are there any specific examples from you?

At several universities including here, Arizona State University, there are some measures taken by the school, for example free speech zones, certain loans are allowed for organizations whereas other parts of the university are not allowed to be used. And they often have delays in approval for confirmation for events that you may have, they may also not allow protests in other places than free speech zones and they have rules and regulations on the whole campus usually oriented to certain causes they dislike, for example, causes for Native American groups or pro-Palestinian groups.

According to this new report by the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education it sounds like educational establishments should give students more freedom to say whatever they want. But that is apparently not happening. Can you comment on that? Do you feel like your First Amendment rights are being imposed upon?

Yes, of course. Universities are supposed to be a place where students and activists, any kind of people can learn their social environment for themselves and make positive changes for the social environment. It is becoming a place more for business rather than for change and social justice.

In other words it is closer to real life than it ever was, right? What do you think?

Yeah, I guess so.

Can you tell us any particular remarks that are prohibited in most US universities if we talk more about examples where First Amendment rights have been infringed?

There is nothing exclusively not allowed, there are just certain areas where you are allowed to have free speech and then maybe if you are showing images that are bloody or something then you have to have some warnings around. But here is an example – some groups do advocacy for Palestinian human rights and then many times counter protests and other opposition are brought to the attention of the president of the university. Another example is the American Studies Association, coalition of hundreds of professors at American universities, they passed resolution to not support any Israeli academic institutions (institutions, not individuals of course) and then the US legislation is being promoted to ban universities from supporting organizations, anti-Israeli specifically, so certain legislation like this is even from the US imposed on the universities and then imposed on to the students. So things like that are occurring at the moment.

Basically you have to watch what you say, you have to watch where you say it and who you are talking about it with. But as a student should you violate the rules as something that is not in line with the university policy? What could be the potential punishment?

Well, the rules are not obviously always ok. You can follow the example of Gandhi and Madiba and people here in America like Martin Luther King, it is called civil disobedience. It is one of the main ways to promote education on the issue. At universities students want change for their future and for the future of the people after them. In terms of punishment there are some incidents where students are taken to court and put on probation, but that doesn't scare anybody from doing any activism.

Finally, let me ask you this final question and I'll let you go. You are a proactive in human rights advocacy, how are you at your university successful or are you seeing the faculty preventing you from what you want to do? How are things at Arizona State University?

Here we haven't faced any big problems, neighboring California universities, for example, had some issues where their president was condemning their activism. We show our support for them and we show our support for any other universities that have issues such as UC Irvine, another university in California. They seem to be in more trouble than us.

Would you say you are a green light, yellow light or red light?

I think we a yellow light because there is lots of paper work they have to do and there are only certain areas where you are allowed to resort and certain times that you are allowed and etc.

Thank you very much for explaining some things to us about how things work within American universities.

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