The Volokh Conspiracy

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Campus Free Speech

The AFA, FIRE, and AAUP on Idaho's Abortion-Related Speech Restrictions

The University of Idaho's guidance to faculty on classroom discussion makes plain a First Amendment problem


The general counsel of the University of Idaho issued a guidance memo to university employees regarding the implications of the state's new abortion law for university operations. That memo told professors that they should maintain instructional neutrality in any classroom discussions relating to abortion if they wished to avoid the possibility of criminal prosecution. I wrote about the law and the memo in an earlier post. Eugene Volokh has likewise blogged about it.

The Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression and the Academic Freedom Alliance and the American Association of University Professors have now issued separate letters regarding the assault on academic freedom in Idaho. The FIRE letter can be found hereThe AAUP statement can be found here. The AFA letter can be found here.

From the AFA letter:

It is imperative that the University of Idaho not merely inform the faculty of the potential risks of teaching with such a law on the books but also strongly voice its objections to any such interpretation or application of the state law. The general counsel's guidance sends a chilling message to every member of the faculty who must discuss difficult and controversial material relating to abortion as part of their teaching duties. The statute itself might not recognize "academic freedom [as] a defense to violation of law," but the First Amendment is an overriding limitation on the power of the state legislature to impose such a restriction on classroom teaching in state universities.