Young Americans for Liberty (YAL) empowers students on college campuses around the country in its “National Fight for Free Speech.” The two fundamental goals of the ongoing campaign are to challenge and reform unconstitutional speech codes on public colleges and universities and to foster campus cultures that embrace the privileges afforded by the First Amendment and encourage the peaceful transfer of diverse ideas.
“Young Americans for Liberty's national free speech campaign has taken the country by storm as we have helped revise 31 unconstitutional campus speech codes and restored First Amendment rights to 643,580 students,” said Alexander Staudt, YAL’s director of free speech. “Our work is changing the atmosphere at college campuses daily, one conversation at a time as our activists engage in civil and open discourse.”
The year 2017 marked tremendous progress in the campaign, with First Amendment rights being restored to over 100,000 students. That same year, YAL’s National Fight for Free Speech challenged speech policies on 191 campuses and received administrative responses from 49. It currently has 5 major lawsuits pending against 27 universities. YAL reports free speech policy victories on 31 campuses that introduced reform.
“With each case, our activists challenge unconstitutional free speech codes and highlight how university administrators are attempting to legislate above the Constitution,” Staudt continued. “In 2018, we aim to challenge 170 speech codes and continue to spread the message of liberty on every campus.”
One significant story that has only been recently resolved involves a student at Los Angeles Pierce College being prohibited from distributing copies of the U.S. Constitution because he had not obtained a permit from the school and was outside a designated “free speech zone.” The free speech zone was so small that it encompassed .003 percent of the entire campus (616 square feet of 426 acres). In response, the student – Kevin Shaw – and his local YAL chapter filed a Federal lawsuit against Los Angeles County Community College District, which includes nine public campuses and 250,000 students. The federal Department of Justice filed a statement in support of Shaw’s lawsuit, arguing that he had “adequately shown his 1st Amendment rights to have been violated.” In January 2018 a judge ruled in favor of Shaw, saying he was well within the boundaries of the First Amendment. Cases like Shaw’s have been drawing media coverage from major national media outlets.
Other students have even been arrested for handing out copies of the Constitution.
With 342 media mentions across local, national, television, radio, and print media in 2017 pertaining to its work on free speech, YAL has been able to expand its reach as the campaign’s public profile has steadily risen. YAL has also established a recurring weekly series in The Washington Examiner, where different campuses and their abridgement of free speech are profiled. Through four “mobilization bootcamps,” six summits, and a four-day national convention, YAL has trained and engaged 2,741 students to advocate on behalf on the rights afforded by the First Amendment. YAL’s national convention in July 2017 attracted over 400 student leaders from 45 states.