Academic freedom is not a concept that is explicitly covered in the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. In addition, the U.S. Supreme Court has not directly confronted the question of whether a faculty member has a constitutional right to academic freedom.
In a case from 1967, the court at least implied that it viewed academic freedom through a First Amendment lens when it stated the following: “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.” Keyishian v. Board of Regents, 385 U.S. 589 (1967). However, the court did not outline the contours of such a right at that time and has not done so since.
Also, in a 2006 case—in a setting outside of the educational sphere—the court held “that when public employees make statements pursuant to their official duties, the employees are not speaking as citizens for First Amendment purposes, and the Constitution does not insulate their communications from employer discipline.” But, the court acknowledged the possible implications to the academic context and stated that “[w]e need not, and for that reason do not, decide whether the analysis we conduct today would apply in the same manner to a case involving speech related to scholarship or teaching.” Garcetti v. Ceballos, 547 U.S. 410 (2006). With the Garcetti case reserving judgement on what the government employee speech analysis means for the concept of academic freedom, some federal circuit courts have offered opinions on the issue. However, there has not been a consensus amongst those courts.