Free Speech Policy 2003

The follow is Principia College’s Free Speech Policy 2003. Many thanks to the reader who sent us the full text of the policy.

RESPONSE TO STUDENT QUESTIONS REGARDING
FREEDOM OF SPEECH AT PRINCIPIA COLLEGE

Several students have inquired whether the College places any limits on the rights of students to discuss community standards on campus, whether Principia’s guidelines on this matter differ from those of other colleges, and whether there are any rules that pertain to “symbolic” speech, such as buttons and armbands. The following should clarify Principia’s long-standing policy.
Principia deeply values its place in a democratic society that cherishes civil rights, including freedom of speech (Policy 9). The First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution creates a right of speech, free from government interference. In this regard, a student at Principia, like a student on any campus, cannot be arrested or jailed by governmental authorities for constitutionally-protected speech. It is also a First Amendment right (freedom of religion) that allows a private school to base its standards on its religious teachings, free from governmental interference. An individual who voluntarily participates in that private institution’s community of students or employees also voluntarily accepts the right of the institution to set its standards based, in Principia’s case, on serving the Cause of Christian Science (Policy 1).

Principia bases everything it does on the teachings of Christian Science. Accordingly, its administration must develop and maintain a sense of what those teachings mean and how they apply to this community (Policy 2).

The College supports honest questioning of a community standard, spontaneous informal conversations, metaphysical research and prayer, or even responsible articles in the Principia Pilot. Individuals are always free to seek answers and have opinions. A house may have a meeting or a class may have a discussion among its members to consider any of Principia’s standards. These would be akin to family discussions. The main purpose of any gatherings of this sort would be to gain a fuller understanding of the standard and the manner in which Principia feels it is related to spiritual growth.

With respect to metaphysical meetings, per se, they are for the sharing of individual inspiration, not for debating human opinions.

The College does not permit public advocacy in campus-wide forums – such as convocation or baccalaureate talks – that promotes opposition to the teachings of Christian Science or to any of Principia’s fundamental standards that are based on these teachings. Nor should a student encourage or advise other students to act in disregard of such standards. Policies 21 and 22 are clear that “Any organized activity
. . . shall exist only as authorized by The Principia . . .” and that all activities, “whether they occur as part of the organized work or as extracurricular phases of school or college life, shall be permitted to exist only to the extent that they are consistent with the purpose and policies of The Principia.” Policy 22 also prohibits conduct – and by implication, advocacy – inconsistent with the teachings of Christian Science. Naturally, community members may advocate change of lesser rules, policies, or programs. In recent years, in response to student advocacy, numerous rules and regulations – notably those related to the College’s disciplinary procedures – have been substantially altered. Likewise, issues such as freshmen housing have been the object of frequent student comment, which has always been welcome.

There is an appropriate avenue for students, faculty, or staff who feel impelled by conscience to ask that the institution reconsider one of its fundamental policies or moral standards. This avenue is to communicate concerns first to the administration and, if still concerned, to the Trustees. These steps can be taken by appointment with or letter to the President and/or Chairman of the Board of Trustees.

With respect to the question of whether Principia’s standards regarding freedom of speech differ from those that obtain at other colleges, the answer is a qualified “yes.” Mrs. Morgan has made clear that everything at Principia is subordinate to serving the Cause of Christian Science, just as, for example, the rights of free press at The Christian Science Monitor may, in rare circumstances, be rendered subordinate to the necessity to honor the newspaper’s motto, “To injure no man, but to bless all mankind.” At the College, therefore, there is a limit on any speech or action that would be inconsistent with the teachings of Christian Science.

Principia values freedom of thought (Policy 9), academic freedom, and the wide participation of its community members in the running of the school (Policy 16). Its standard regarding speech is that a community member may not organize a debate or publicly advocate opposition to the teachings of Christian Science or to Principia’s community and moral standards based on these teachings.

It is hoped that this brief explanation will provide a helpful guideline. For additional information, students or staff are encouraged to contact the President’s Office or the Office of Student Life.

The College Executive Committee
April 2003

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