The University of Massachusetts Lowell has an Acceptable Use Policy that bans students from using university Wi-Fi to intentionally share, send, or view “offensive” content.
This policy might be a violation of the First Amendment and ignores the fact that most online content is offensive to someone – which, these days, is pretty much any content.
Additionally, the Supreme Court has in multiple cases ruled that speech should not be restricted by the government just because it is offensive to someone.
For instance, in the Texas v Johnson case back in 1989, the Supreme Court ruled that burning the US flag was protected by the First Amendment, arguing: “If there is a bedrock principle underlying the First Amendment, it is that the government may not prohibit the expression of an idea simply because society finds the idea itself offensive or disagreeable.”
But that has not stopped public institutions all over the country from restricting free speech in one way or the other.
It would be impractical for UMass Lowell to take action every time a student views or shares something offensive. However, the policy makes it easy for the university to selectively censor speech they do not agree with.
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