January 23, 1967 (a Monday)

Scales of Justice

On this date, the U.S. Supreme Court in Keyishian v. Board of Regents of University of State of New York ruled that faculty members’ First Amendment rights were violated by a state requirement that they sign a certificate stating that they were not and never had been Communists and by vague and overly broad restrictions on verbal and written expression. Specifically, political “loyalty oaths” required of New York State employees (including educators) under state civil service laws were declared void, and New York education laws against “treasonable or seditious speech” were found to violate the First Amendment right to free speech. Thus, the Court finally awarded to teachers and professors the full complement of free speech and political privacy rights afforded other citizens.

The Supreme Court famously emphasized the importance of academic freedom in higher education:

Our nation is deeply committed to safeguarding academic freedom, which is of transcendent value to all of us and not merely to the teachers concerned. That freedom is therefore a special concern of the First Amendment, which does not tolerate laws that cast a pall of orthodoxy over the classroom. . . The classroom is peculiarly the marketplace of ideas.’ The nation’s future depends upon leaders trained through wide exposure to that robust exchange of ideas which discovers truth ‘out of a multitude of tongues, [rather] than through any kind of authoritative selection.’ 

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