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Jane Bambauer Comments on Higher Education First Amendment Concerns and Meta Lawsuit

Jane Bambauer, Brechner Eminent Scholar and the director of the Marion B. Brechner First Amendment Project at the University of Florida, was quoted in “Proposed Florida University Regulation Raises First Amendment Concerns” published on on Oct. 31.

The article focuses on a new regulation that the Florida Legislature has proposed that could prohibit public universities from funding or participating in what it deems as social activism.

According to Bambauer, First Amendment protections do not necessarily apply to state-sponsored academic settings.

“The usual rule is that the government can’t censor the speech of individuals and private organizations, but it can manage its own speech,” Bambauer said. “So, there’s a set of government speech cases that basically says that the government can say what it wants. It can restrict itself in its messaging as well, and it can even, to some degree, control its employees — and that’s sort of the terrain that we’re in. Faculty members are a special kind of government employee when they work at a university.”

Bambauer went on to say that the Legislature, in being the sponsor and watchdog of public educational programs, has a legal right to regulate the messages those programs convey.

“If the state thinks the university is not rising to the level of academic integrity that it expects … If it thinks they are indoctrinating rather than promoting critical thinking. If it means that ideology distorts the administration of education — if that’s what the Legislature sees, I don’t think that notions of academic freedom are so expansive that the Legislature couldn’t intervene in some way,” she said. “Generally, when the nature of the state’s interference with faculty function is for the purpose of demanding political purity or homogeneity, those are the cases where the courts will find a free speech problem.”

Bambauer was also quoted in “That’s So Meta” published in The Dispatch on Oct. 30.

The article focuses on the addictive nature of social media platforms and includes a lawsuit that alleges that Meta, similar to tobacco companies and opioid manufacturers, knew that its products were addictive and harmful for younger users and misled the public about the dangers.

Some legal observers think the case could run afoul of the First Amendment and Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act—a federal law that protects social media companies from liability for the third-party content published on their platforms. Bambauer believes such claims could implicate the company’s free speech protections.

Posted: November 1, 2023
Category: College News, Marion B. Brechner First Amendment Project News
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