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Domestic News | September 28, 2012

Crash Course 9.28.12

News roundup

Unconstitutional speech codes, the ACLU wants to defend the government, student debt rising and dodgeball

The Illinois State University band (Photo courtesy of ISU, via Facebook)

This month, Illinois State University (ISU) joined several other public universities facing criticism, and possible legal challenges, over their restrictive speech codes. The school's code requires students to conform to the school's beliefs about civility, diversity and individual and social responsibility, according to a report on CampusReform.org. Students who don't conform can get with the program or leave, the code says: "When individual behavior conflicts with the values of the University, the individual must choose whether to adapt his or her behavior to meet the needs of the community or to leave the University."

Free speech advocates Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) highlighted ISU's code as it's offender of the month. Despite court rulings upholding free speech rights on campus, many public schools try to restrict when and where students can protest and what kind of literature they can distribute. Some of the codes target religious or political speech, while allowing other kinds of gatherings all over campus. FIRE and the legal coalition Alliance Defending Freedom have separate campaigns targeting codes that violate free speech rights on campus. In almost every case, schools have changed codes in response to requests, and threats of legal action, from the groups.

Not so fast: A federal judge in Pittsburg has denied the ACLU the right to join the government in defending a challenge to the birth control coverage mandate included in the 2010 healthcare reform package. The civil rights group tried to muscle in on the case filed by Geneva College, in Beaver Falls, Pa. Geneva is one of 14 Christian colleges suing the government over the mandate, which requires them to include coverage for birth control and abortifacient drugs under health insurance policies offered to staff and students. U.S. District Judge Joy Flowers Conti told The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review she did not want to allow other parties to join the case at such an early date. But that does not mean the group won't get to tag along to the courtroom eventually. In all cases challenging the contraceptive mandate, the government has filed motions to dismiss. The government's lawyers argue the schools don't have standing to sue because they don't have to comply with the mandate until next year. A federal judge in Washington D.C. already dismissed two suits brought by Belmont Abbey College, of North Carolina, and Wheaton College, of Illinois.

College debt rising: According to a new analysis by the Pew Research Center, one in five households--19 percent of the U.S. population--had some form of student loan debt in 2010. American families carried only half as much debt in 1989. And a large slice of the increase in debt has taken place just in the last few years. Since 2007, the student debt load has increased 15 percent. Higher tuition costs and increased enrollment are driving the debt rates. And the financial burden hit poorer households, those making less than $21,044 per year, hardest. Overall, 40 percent of U.S. households headed by someone younger than 35 are paying off student loans, the highest share of any age group.

A distraction?: And in lighter news, The Los Angeles Times reported this week that University of California at Irvine students set the Guinness world record for the most people playing dodgeball at one time. The game included 6,084 players. Hopefully that took their mind off all the student loan debt they're racking up.