While professors can legitimately ask students to advocate a variety of ideas in class, including on assigned papers and other class projects, they cannot ask students to advocate particular ideas to the general public or to individuals outside the classroom context. In short, professors cannot enlist you as their own private lobbyist or community activist.
To understand this growing trend on campuses, consider this scenario:
To complete the requirements for your major, you must take a class in which the professor requires the class to advocate certain views outside the classroom. The professor instructs the class that it will send a letter to the state legislature advocating in favor of homosexual adoption. Each student must draft a letter on that topic and with that viewpoint and then sign and send it to the legislature. Can the professor do this?
This scenario actually occurred at Missouri State University. Emily Brooker, a Christian student in the school of social work, was taking a required course for her degree. The professor required the entire class to send a letter advocating in favor of homosexual adoption to the Missouri state legislature. This violated Ms. Brooker’s deeply held religious beliefs, and she refused to complete that portion of the assignment, even though she was willing to learn about the topic. Missouri State University charged her with the highest level of academic violation and required her to sign a contract stating that she would conform her religious beliefs to the University’s social work ethics code. Ms. Brooker contacted Alliance Defending Freedom and filed a lawsuit against the University, which was resolved in her favor.
In this situation, a professor required students to profess certain beliefs outside the classroom. This requirement that students advocate an idea outside the classroom crosses the line into unconstitutional “compelled speech.” While students can be required to advocate disagreeable views in the classroom and play the “devil’s advocate,” forcing citizens to mouth propositions outside the educational environment regardless of whether they believe them is alien to a free society.
Similarly, public universities that force students to attend mandatory diversity training or “sensitivity training” sessions, are likely violating the Constitution. Additionally, private schools that promise their students free speech or academic freedom are in stark violation of their own promises if they require such ideological loyalty oaths—loyalty and adherence to a particular orthodoxy, belief system, or ideology.