Over the course of the next few weeks, we’ll be posting videos submitted by participants in The Atlas Network’s “Lights, Camera, Liberty” program. Each member organization has been asked to share a short (in some cases, short-ish) video that they produced and best shows off their mission-in-action, as well as their filmmaking chops.
This week’s video comes from FIRE, a non-profit organization based in Philadelphia.
Here’s FIRE discussing their video submission:
The mission of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education is to defend and sustain individual rights at America’s colleges and universities. These rights include freedom of speech, legal equality, due process, religious liberty, and sanctity of conscience—the essential qualities of individual liberty and dignity. FIRE’s core mission is to protect the unprotected and to educate the public and communities of concerned Americans about the threats to these rights on our campuses and about the means to preserve them.
When Chris Morbitzer and his University of Cincinnati (UC) chapter of Young Americans for Liberty sought permission to gather signatures across UC’s campus for a time-sensitive, statewide ballot initiative, their request was denied. Morbitzer was told that if he and his group were seen gathering signatures outside of the school’s tiny and restrictive “free speech zone,” campus security would be called and they could be arrested.
“I think it is absurd that they were threatening to put me in jail for exercising what is a constitutional right,” says Morbitzer in FIRE’s latest video.
Dismayed that he might not be able to gather many signatures if he was confined to a free speech zone that comprised just 0.1% of campus, Morbitzer took a bold step: He sued his university.
“Me suing the university felt a lot like David versus Goliath,” says Morbitzer, “like, I stood no chance at all because, you know, I’m just a little student.”
On far too many campuses nationwide, universities unreasonably restrict students’ expressive activities to limited areas—so-called “free speech zones.” When challenged in the court of law and the court of public opinion, these zones routinely lose.
In this video, we chronicle Morbitzer and his student group’s fight against their school’s attempts to limit their speech. In the process, we examine the problem of restrictive free speech zone policies on and off campus—policies that exile would-be speakers to far off corners of their campuses or, in some cases, place protesters behind barbed-wire fences.