Our View: First Amendment flaws in Viking Code

The Carrier’s editorial opinion represents the views of the senior members of the Campus Carrier and Viking Fusion’s news staff.

As a people, we love to fight for our freedoms, our deserved rights, our First Amendment liberties. That is why we participate in events like the Women’s March and cover our sidewalks with chalk love letters. 

However, when two peoples’ rights come head-to-head, the common fight for liberty disappears, quickly turning into a duel of whose rights are more important. 

When evidence of “the Chalkening” sprung up around campus last semester, many students were appalled to know that according to Berry’s speech code in the Viking Handbook, even “hateful” chalk writings qualified as free speech. 

It is easy to understand how the debate over the chalkings caused so much division and confusion throughout Berry when our speech code contains a mere 81 words on how to define students’ freedoms of expression and 75 to define harassment. 

The Viking Code’s freedom of expression definition begins with, “Freedom of expression does not include the right to…” Instead of offering the benefits of a student’s First Amendment rights and all they encompass, the speech code immediately introduces limitations. The speech code never mentions what free speech is, only what it is not. With these vague and restricting guidelines, Berry expects its students and faculty to hold themselves “to high standards that are needed in a healthy community.” However, there is no specificity to what those high standards are. 

Harassment is defined within Berry’s speech code as including “hostile or intimidating verbal or written statements.” But who defines hostile and intimidating? The code also bans speech “intended to insult or stigmatize an individual or group of individuals.” But who decides what is insulting and what is not? 

These words are vague and open to interpretation, making questions of free speech on Berry’s campus hazy. The code does not explicitly define what constitutes “insulting” or “intimidating” speech, therefore, it seems to allow case by case picking and choosing of prohibited speech. 

Due to this lack of clarification in the speech code, how can our college solve any issues regarding free speech? How can Berry ever reach a conclusion about what is acceptable and unacceptable? How can we, as students, fully enjoy the freedoms of our First Amendment rights?

As a private college, Berry is allowed to limit free speech for community members in ways that public schools cannot. One difference is the wording and creation of the Viking Code does not have to abide with the United States Constitution, like public schools do. The Berry administration has the authority to shape and craft a policy that addresses free speech on campus in whichever way they see fit. 

As stated in an article by the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education entitled “Private Universities,” private colleges “may not be bound by the First Amendment, but private institutions are still legally obligated to provide what they promise. Private institutions may not engage in fraud or breach of contract.”

However, in order for Berry to uphold this contract, Viking Code must be clear and consistent. Berry should, therefore, clearly define what qualifies as student’s freedom of expression on campus, provide examples of limits to these freedoms within the Viking Code and seek to follow the spirit and letter of the First Amendment.

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