Would universities stand up for pro-gun students' free speech rights?

In a rare act of solidarity, several universities are voicing their support for applicants who participate in protests for stricter gun control.

Schools like Yale, MIT, Boston University, and others have issued statements explicitly stating that those who stage demonstrations against pro-gun laws will not have their admissions jeopardized, should their high schools penalize them for peaceful protests. In a now-viral tweet, The Brown University Office of College Admission stated:

@BrownUAdmission Applicants to Brown: Expect a socially conscious, intellectually independent campus where freedom of expression is fundamentally important. You can be assured that peaceful, responsible protests against gun violence will not negatively impact decisions on admission to Brown.

Quite plainly, several admissions departments seem to have picked a side in the gun control debate:

@UMassAmherstUA Students: If you participate in peaceful protests against gun violence and receive school discipline for walking out, staging your protest, etc., please rest assured that you can report it to UMass Amherst, and we won't hold it against you. #ParklandStudentsSpeak

@ApplytoBU Admission to BU will not be jeopardized should your school levy a penalty for participating in peaceful protests, such as the National School Walkout Day. See Dean of Admissions Kelly A. Walter's full statement here: http://spr.ly/6012DRTEk BU_Tweets #StudentsStandUp

This comes as survivors of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting and other high school students are organizing rallies, media interviews, and school walkouts to protest gun violence.

In response, several high school administrations issued warnings to students that any participation in such demonstrations, such as the National School Walkout Day, during school hours will result in disciplinary action. In fact, the Needville Independent School District in Texas promised three days of suspension for those who decided to protest.

But students need not fear; they now have universities on their side.

While it’s encouraging to see “universities” and “free speech” in the same headline, only half the work is done if college administrations don’t go to the same lengths to protect speech with which they might disagree.

It’s refreshing that colleges are finally standing up for free speech. It’s disconcerting that they only tend to do so for students who share their political views. Many of these same universities have stood idly by as conservative groups have found their First Amendment rights put on the backburner.

In several cases around the country, several schools have discovered creative means to muffle free speech when it comes to conservative students. The University of Minnesota could potentially face a lawsuit for banning conservative icon Ben Shapiro from speaking at any of their large campus venues—banishing the event to their “cow campus” in St. Paul.

Just last month, the Department of Justice filed in support of conservative groups suing the University of California, Berkeley for discriminating against their activities on campus. In one case, the Berkeley administration instituted a bizarre 3pm curfew for one of their events causing a conflict with classes.

Several other universities have come under fire for barely punishing students who violently disrupt events involving right-leaning speakers. Administrations have mastered the art of issuing empty statements voicing their disapproval of violent activities, while doing very little to stop them from happening.

That’s why you shouldn’t buy all these virtue-signaling announcements from universities claiming to support the First Amendment rights of high school applicants. In fact, if you read them a little closer, several statements are pretty specific about not penalizing pro-gun control activists in particular. I have a hard time believing that a staunch NRA-supporting, Second Amendment activist would be guaranteed such protections.

But true adherence to constitutional rights doesn’t stop with only your political allies. Colleges and universities should be bastions of free speech—even when it’s inconvenient.

A recent study conducted by Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) and YouGov found that “very liberal students are 14 percentage points more likely to feel comfortable expressing their opinions in the classroom than their very conservative peers.” For all of the talk about embracing diversity on campus, it’s clear that too often that doesn’t include diversity of thought.

While it’s encouraging to see “universities” and “free speech” in the same headline (without being followed by “lawsuit”), only half the work is done if college administrations don’t go to the same lengths to protect speech with which they might disagree. After all, isn’t that what they taught us is the point of the Constitution?