Vanderbilt University took some well-deserved lambasting for its ludicrous policy forcing virtually all student groups on campus to let any interested student join and seek a leadership position -- meaning students of similar ideology or faith, for example, are in effect denied freedom of association. They suffer forfeiture of their campus space and loss of their Vanderbilt affiliation if they don't obey.
Still, as a private institution, Vanderbilt has the right to set those types of bad policies.
Not so at publicly funded Tennessee Tech, and a recent federal appeals court ruling is a first step toward setting things right at the Cookeville school.
There is a public perception that college and university campuses are free speech free-for-alls, with pretty much any kind of expression not only permitted but heartily fostered and encouraged.
But Tennessee Tech established a rule that set that notion on its head.
It mandates that anyone who intends to speak on campus must let the school know that two weeks in advance and tell the school what he plans to discuss.
While that does not necessarily mean a person will be denied the right to speak based on the content of his message, it creates the impression that disfavored speech may be blocked. At a minimum, it almost certainly discourages the free exchange of ideas that colleges are supposed to promote. Discussion of vital current events, for instance, does not always allow for a two-week lag.
And the religious speech at the center of the Tennessee Tech case ruled on by the federal court is at the pinnacle of First Amendment protection. The court ruled that the university violated the First Amendment when it asked a Kentucky man to leave after he attempted to discuss his faith on campus.
Well, duh. Of course that violated the Constitution. Trouble is, it doesn't appear that the Tennessee Board of Regents has gotten the message about free speech. A newly adopted policy that takes effect June 1 says would-be speakers still must give the dozens of colleges and universities that the board oversees a five-day notice.
Just let speakers have their say, so long as they do it in a peaceful, non-disruptive way. Some will say stupid things. Some will be inflammatory. Some will be brilliant and inspiring.
But that's all beside the point.
This is America. Speech is still supposed to be free.
Make it so.