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Supreme Court of the United States

Reclaiming Your Freedom to Live Your Beliefs on Campus

Frequently Asked Questions

As a student, what are my rights on campus?

Freedom of Speech - The U.S. Constitution protects your right to express personal religious and political beliefs in writing, speech, and visual or performing arts while at a public university. In class, a professor may ask you to take positions you disagree with, so long as he doesn’t require you to agree with those positions outside the classroom.

Freedom of Association - Christian and conservative student groups have the same right to associate on public university campuses as any other group.

Free Exercise of Religious Beliefs - Public universities cannot compel you to publicly advocate views and adopt values that are contrary to your beliefs.

Equal Access - All recognized student groups have the same right to access resources a university has made available. This includes funding, meeting rooms, mail systems, or other campus resources.

Equal Opportunity - As a student, you have the right to be free from censorship, reprisal, or punishment for your beliefs. Students with religious or conservative beliefs should have the same chance at academic success, employment, and promotion.

In most circumstances, universities cannot expel religious groups from campus merely because they want their members or leaders to agree with the group’s religious beliefs. Overly broad “nondiscrimination” policies may violate student groups’ rights of association. But the Supreme Court has said that a college may restrict students’ free association if it has an “all comers” policy, meaning that all students must be allowed to join and lead all groups. If you are facing a specific situation, please contact us at 1-800-835-5233, or submit a Request Legal Help Form.

No. Many public universities use unconstitutional speech codes on their campuses to censor students. By using terms like “offensive,” “demeaning,” and “uncomfortable,” these speech codes give administrators broad discretion to silence students, which is unconstitutional.

Generally, no. While professors can ask you to play “devil’s advocate” in the classroom, they cannot force you to take a particular public position on an issue. For example, university administrators and faculty directed a student to participate in lobbying the Missouri State Legislature in support of homosexual adoption as part of her course requirements for a degree in social work. When she refused because of her beliefs, the university threatened to withhold her degree. Alliance Defending Freedom filed a lawsuit on her behalf, which was quickly settled by the institution. No government entity has the right to tell students what to think, say, or feel.

No. Many administrators mistakenly believe that permitting expressions of faith means that the college or university is violating the so-called “separation of church and state.” But the Supreme Court has held for many years that the Constitution requires neutrality toward religion; it does not require hostility. Your group cannot be singled out for disparate treatment because it is religious or conservative.

Generally, no. It may be hard to believe, but in a country built on deep respect for free speech, many universities use policies creating “speech zones” to restrict free speech, frequently to small, isolated areas. This is not only unfair, but it is usually unlawful.

If you think your university may be violating one of your constitutionally protected rights, with the help of Alliance Defending Freedom, you can make a difference. Your courage could pave the way for thousands of other students, faculty, or staff members across the country to live out their faith on campus. Contact us at 1-800-835-5233, or submit a Request Legal Help Form.

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