U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions on Tuesday said several universities across the country, including Boise State University, are infringing on free speech in an attempt to avoid controversy.
Sessions called out BSU by name during a speech at Georgetown Law School’s Center for the Constitution, according to the Washington Post. He pointed out a portion of the school’s student code of conduct which prohibits “conduct that a reasonable person would find offensive.” Sessions also called out the code of conduct at Clemson University, which prohibits acts that create an “offensive ... environment.”
“But who decides what is offensive and what is acceptable?” Sessions said. “The university is about the search for truth, not the imposition of truth by a government censor.”
In his speech, Sessions also cited a study that surveyed 450 higher education institutions across the country and reportedly found 40 percent of them had policies that infringed on free speech.
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“The American university was once the center of academic freedom — a place of robust debate, a forum for the competition of ideas,” Sessions said in his remarks Tuesday. “But it is transforming into an echo chamber of political correctness and homogenous thought, a shelter for fragile egos.”
Boise State University officials responded to Sessions’ comments on Tuesday afternoon:
“University leaders at Boise State could not agree more that a ‘university is about the search for truth, not the imposition of truth by a government censor,’ as Attorney General Jeff Sessions said. But the student policy he referred to doesn't sanction offensive speech, but disorderly conduct, including ‘[c]onduct that a reasonable person would find offensive such as lewd, indecent, obscene, or profane actions.’ That policy also specifically recognizes, in its very first section, that ‘students enjoy the same freedoms of speech, peaceful assembly, and right of petition that all citizens enjoy’ and clearly states that ‘nothing in the Student Code of Conduct shall infringe on rights guaranteed by the Constitution of the United States.’
“Boise State recently spent over a year revising its policies that implicate free expression — in partnership with both the conservative Idaho Freedom Foundation and the Idaho branch of the American Civil Liberties Union. Boise State is committed to supporting free expression and ‘the only limits on this expression are to avoid conflict with the normal uses of the campus, the rights of others, and the limitations of lawful conduct,’ as stated in university policy. We continuously review and revise our policies as necessary to ensure that commitment.”
Sessions’ comments echo a sentiment that has been discussed at length in recent days after President Donald Trump criticized NFL players who took a knee during the national anthem in protest of police violence against people of color.