Georgetown University is wildly confused about its free speech obligations: the law school recently barred students from campaigning for Bernie Sanders on campus, citing misplaced concerns that doing so violates IRS law.
A group of Georgetown law students attempted to set up a table and distribute pro-Sanders literature, but an administrator quickly shut them down because their actions threatened the university's tax-exempt status, she said.
The administrator is wrong. According to the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, Georgetown's tax-exempt status is not undermined by students engaging in political activity. Indeed, students have every right to express opinions and engage in speech—including and especially political speech:
"Every campaign season, FIRE sees private colleges erroneously tell students that they can't campaign for their candidate because it would threaten the school's tax exemption," said FIRE Senior Program Officer Marieke Tuthill Beck-Coon. "That's just not correct. As the IRS has made clear, and as FIRE has emphasized repeatedly throughout the years, nonprofit restrictions on political campaigning apply to the institution itself, not to students or student groups."
The College Fix's Greg Piper writes that "you'd think a bunch of lawyers would understand this distinction," and on that point, I disagree with him. I've found that law school students and administrators are frequently the most mixed-up people on campus, when it comes to free speech. [Related: Law Students Wrote This Unconstitutional, Ungrammatical Speech Code: 'Do Not Comment Despairingly on Others']
Despite what Georgetown administrators currently believe, a college campus is an excellent place to try to persuade other people to support (or oppose) a particular political candidate.