With a diverse collection of student organizations, Florida State University has demonstrated its commitment to protecting freedom of speech. In 2022, Florida State polled at number 15 in the nation among all universities in supporting free expression on campus.
The Foundation of Individual Rights and Expression (FIRE) recently conducted a nationwide survey to find out which universities provide the best protections for free expression of their students. The rankings are determined by collecting data from over 200 college campuses. Not only did Florida State make it into the top 15 nationwide, but it is the highest rated school in the state of Florida for free expression.
FIRE breaks down their calculations into multiple components: comfort expressing ideas, tolerance for liberal speakers, tolerance for conservative speakers, disruptive conduct, and administrative support and openness. Seeing Florida State place so high on this list is encouraging, as the nation is currently in the midst of a paradigm shift regarding what the constitutional definition of “free speech” entails.
Free speech and the Constitution
The First Amendment, which codifies freedom of speech in the United States, reads, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”
But recently, the American tradition of free speech has become the subject of partisan debate. The modern phenomenon of social media platforms serving as the modern town square has highlighted this division. Shortly after business magnate Elon Musk’s acquisition of Twitter, it was revealed that the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) paid the company to censor speech on the platform during the 2020 election cycle. Musk — who has claimed to be a free speech absolutist — has also engaged in deplatforming by banning accounts impersonating him, or revealing his real-time location.
Many Americans have become less averse to upending the free speech rights of those who stated things they found offensive, even if it is protected under the First Amendment. This begs the question of where the line for such censorship is, and particularly, whether simply taking offense to the content of speech can justify infringing on an individual’s fundamental rights.
Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody is currently pressuring the Supreme Court to hear arguments in favor of a Florida law that has been struck down by the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals. The state is seeking to prohibit social media companies from deplatforming political candidates and politicians. The Supreme Court struck down a similar Texas law in a 5-4 vote, allowing platforms to continue to remove political speech, even if the speech is constitutionally protected.
On this issue, lawmakers across the political spectrum are walking a narrow line. Conservatives who defend free markets and minimal government regulation on private businesses, are now calling for action against social media companies engaged in censorship. Conversely, liberals who tend to be skeptical of corporate influence have advocated safeguarding private entities (social media platforms) from government intervention, if it means combatting “dangerous” speech.
What can Florida State students do?
If Florida State continues to perform well in FIRE’s rankings, our campus should not be shaken by the dramatically shifting social norms that we are currently witnessing. Even when the standard of what is considered free speech seems to be shifting, our campus can and should always demonstrate decency to those with ideas different from our own.
The time we spend as students should be a formative period in our lives. In this spirit, we must continue to recognize the value of free speech, and resist attempts to quash it.