Restoring Free Exchange to the Academic Marketplace

Academic Freedom

You’ve seen open air markets. They come in many forms: food bazaars, swap meets, flea markets, trade shows. People set up their booths and tables of fruits and vegetables, gizmos and knick knacks, knock-offs and antiques, and the shoppers and the gawkers and the curious are free to surge through and around the various displays, sorting out the deals from the steals, the legitimate sellers from the hucksters. It’s a tradition as old as human history … the right of a seller to present his products, the right of the buyer to beware.

Colleges and universities are often described as “the marketplace of ideas.” Professors and fellow students present their philosophical wares, which impressionable young minds have an opportunity to freely sample, examine, embrace, or reject.

That’s the way it’s supposed to work … but on too many campuses in America today, professors and administrators are less interested in providing a free market than in making students “an offer they can’t refuse.” Enforcing speech codes designed to restrict what students say and speech zones designed to limit where they can say it, public universities are now run like Socialist government stores, presenting their “customers” with a one-size-fits-all line of intellectual clothing tailored to suit the current cultural and political fashions.

Across the U.S., parents and young people are finding that educators are less interested in teaching students than in indoctrinating them, and that administrators are mandating a strict and sometimes brutal intellectual conformity. And for two decades now, many of them have been turning to Alliance Defending Freedom for help in asserting their constitutionally-protected freedom to think, to speak, to gather with those who share their convictions, and to enjoy equal access to the funding and settings public campuses provide.

And, by God’s grace, ADF has been able to help these families to a remarkable degree.  Across the last two decades, we have won more than 200 legal victories and groundbreaking court decisions involving public universities. This year, in particular, He has given us enormous success in defending students at every level of the education process, including:

  • 10 new lawsuits filed to protect the freedoms of public university students against unconstitutional policies or protect the religious freedom of private universities against the Obama administration’s abortion pill mandate. Two of these lawsuits were against some of the largest university systems in the country: University of Michigan and University of Georgia.
  • A nation-shaping victory in the leading faculty free speech case involving a jury trial.
  • Friend-of-the-court briefs filed in significant university cases, including one in which the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously upheld the right of public employees to speak freely on matters of public concern outside their workplace, such as when testifying in court.
  • A crucial win in a Virginia case that dismantled unconstitutional speech restrictions at 23 community colleges throughout the state. (One case, 23 schools – that’s a tremendous return on investment!)
  • An ongoing nationwide effort (begun in 2012) to contact universities and colleges that enforce unconstitutional policies. At present, ADF has written letters to nearly 400 schools and has succeeded in having bad policies changed for the benefit of more than 4.5 million students in 25 states.

“Public universities should encourage, not shut down, the free exchange of ideas,” says Senior Legal Counsel David Hacker, who heads the ADF public university legal team. “For them to do otherwise is to act contrary to their very reason for existence and is frequently unconstitutional as well. Our efforts to protect freedom at public universities are motivated by one desire: to ensure that the marketplace of ideas that a university is supposed to be stays that way for everyone.”

Please be in prayer for our ADF attorneys, as they work to make our public schools at every level free, just, and accessible forums in which your children and grandchildren may speak and share their faith.

Author: Alan Sears