The 17th century Englishman John Milton wrote, "Give me the liberty to know, to utter, and to argue freely according to conscience, above all liberties." Those words in Milton's “Areopagitica” were published in defiance of his government's law that required publishers be licensed, a law that gave the government broad authority to confiscate and destroy books and jail their authors.
The notions contained in Milton's work, while not so moving as to eliminate England's Licensing Order of 1663—the censorship regulation remained in place until 1694—it is often considered one of most compelling defenses of the free press, an inspiration for history's other great freedom thinkers and has influenced the U.S. Supreme Court's rulings on the First Amendment.
Today, government still stretches the limits of the First Amendment, placing rules and restrictions on words and publications, on speeches and protests. Those restrictions often make their way into the legal system when recalcitrant government bureaucracies refuse to give up their power. Worse, government is too often not challenged on egregious policies, either because doing so is cost prohibitive, too time consuming or intimidating.
It's good when groups take up the challenge in defense of liberty. It is even better when government recognizes its error and is willing to fix the problem. This, thankfully, appears to be the case with Boise State University.
Earlier this year, the school took several troublesome steps regarding an event by Young Americans for Liberty. The group brought Second Amendment champion Dick Heller to Boise. For that event, BSU charged the group an extra security fee after a Facebook comment suggested event participants open carry on campus. And the school required pre-approval of YAL's promotional fliers, even those that were to be delivered off campus.
The school's administration, though, did nothing in violation of school rules. Such treatment of YAL was standard, and authorized by the school's policies. Those policies give broad authority to university officials to control various aspects of events, including the content of materials and the assignment of costs for perceived security needs.
YAL complained, and the school could have dug in. It didn't. These are policies that the school indicates it will now suspend "until we have revised the policies in a manner that strikes the proper balance between the University’s operational and educational needs and yet fully protects the freedom of expression that we have a shared interest in preserving," the school said in a letter.
Furthermore, BSU has committed to work with the Idaho Freedom Foundation and ACLU of Idaho to write the new policies. The new policies will no doubt lead to greater opportunities for free speech, debate and expression on campus, the necessity of which cannot be articulated as clearly as it was in “Areopagitica” nearly 370 years ago: "Where there is much desire to learn, there of necessity will be much arguing, much writing, many opinions; for opinion in good men is but knowledge in the making."
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