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Justice Alito warns of declining support for freedom of speech on college campuses

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Justice Alito warns of declining support for freedom of speech on college campuses

Conservative Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito on Saturday warned that support for freedom of speech is “declining dangerously,” especially on college campuses, as part of a commencement address he delivered at the Franciscan University of Steubenville, a Catholic college in Ohio.

His remarks appeared to reference unrest at various college campuses around the country arising from protests against Israel’s military operations in Gaza.

“Right now in the world outside this beautiful campus, troubled waters are slamming against some of our most fundamental principles,” Alito said.

“Support for freedom of speech is declining dangerously,” he added, especially on college campuses, where the exchange of ideas should be most protected.

“Very few colleges live up to that ideal. This place is one of them … but things are not that way out there in the broader world,” Alito said.

Though Alito’s support for free speech has its limits — he was a notable sole dissenter when the Supreme Court in 2011 ruled 8-1 that members of the conservative Westboro Baptist Church had a free speech right to picket the funeral of a military veteran.

“Our profound national commitment to free and open debate is not a license for the vicious verbal assault that occurred in this case,” he wrote in dissent.

Alito, who is Catholic, has frequently raised the alarm about freedom of religion being under attack and has often voted in favor of expanding religious rights.

“Freedom of religion is also imperiled,” he told the graduating students. “When you venture out into the world, you may well find yourself in a job, or community or a social setting when you will be pressured to endorse ideas you don’t believe, or to abandon core beliefs. It will be up to you to stand firm.”

The Supreme Court is poised in the coming weeks to issue major rulings on a series of contentious issues including abortion, gun rights and whether former President Donald Trump is immune from prosecution for his attempts to overturn the results of the 2020 election.

Alito, the author of the 2022 ruling that overturned abortion rights landmark Roe v. Wade, is one of several justices making public appearances while the court prepares its rulings.

On Friday, fellow conservative Justice Clarence Thomas decried the “nastiness and the lies” he has faced while speaking at a judicial conference in Alabama.

He and his wife, conservative political activist Ginni Thomas, have both been in the spotlight in recent years. He has been accused of failing to follow ethics rules, while she was criticized for backing Trump’s effort to challenge election results.

At another judicial conference in Texas, conservative Justice Brett Kavanaugh said on Friday that Supreme Court rulings that are unpopular when issued can later become part of the “fabric of American constitutional law.”

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