Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Federal Court: Speech restrictions on students unconstitutional

Students and free speech win over University of Cincinnati!

Press Release:

Federal Court: University of Cincinnati Speech Restrictions on Students Unconstitutional

Students supporting "right to work" amendment cannot be arrested for discussing amendment and gathering signatures on campus

Cincinnati, OH - A federal court today ruled that the University of Cincinnati's blanket prohibition on student political speech on campus violates the First Amendment. The ruling, made by Judge Black of the Cincinnati division of the Southern District of Ohio, paves the way for members of the student group Young Americans for Liberty ("YAL") to advocate and collect signatures for the Ohio Workplace Freedom Amendment on campus.

The 1851 Center for Constitutional Law, which also drafted the Workplace Freedom Amendment, took up the students' case and challenged UC's policies after UC threatened to arrest student members of YAL if they attempted to gather signatures for the right-to-work cause on campus.

The lawsuit sought recognition that (1) the First Amendment applied to public university property, such as the University of Cincinnati; (2) signature-gathering for petition drives is a protected form of political speech; and (3) UC's requirement that all UC students register up to 15 days ahead of time before engaging in any political speech on campus violates the First Amendment.

In his decision, Judge Black emphasized "It is simply unfathomable that a UC student needs to give the University advance notice of an intent to gather signatures for a ballot initiative. There is no danger to public order arising out of students walking around campus with clipboards seeking signatures." The order, an across-the-board rebuke to UC's policies, enjoins UC from:

* "Requiring prior notification for the solicitation by students of signatures for petitions;"

* "Prohibiting all solicitation by students of signatures for petitions in any designated public forum, including the Free Speech Area, the outdoor spaces described in the MainStreet Event Guide, and campus sidewalks;"

* "Requiring that all student 'demonstrations, picketing, or rallies' occur only in the Free Speech Area;"

* "Requiring 5 to 15 days prior notification for any and all student 'demonstrations, picketing, or rallies' without differentiations;"

* "Imposing or enforcing any policy restricting student speech in any designated public forum, including the Free Speech Area, the outdoors spaces described in the MainStreet Event Guide, and campus sidewalks, that is not individually and narrowly tailored to serve a compelling university interest.

The Court further ordered UC to craft "more narrowly tailored regulations that regulate student expressive activities . . . only as are necessary to serve a compelling government interest." "UC is an arm of the state that has chased and received state and federal tax dollars since its inception, all in the name of 'public education,'" said Maurice Thompson, Executive Director of the 1851 Center.

"UC mistakenly seeks to advance its mission of public education by shielding its students from actual education on public policy issues that affect all Ohioans. Fortunately, the First Amendment allows us to protect the education of UC students from their educators; it further protects the right of students to calmly address facts and arguments that UC would rather suppress, and to do so without prior permission."

The 1851 Center and UC students endured four months of procedural tactics, harassing depositions, and frivolous daily letters by UC's attorneys, after Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine authorized $200,000 in state funds to the private law firm of Crabbe Brown, a campaign contributor of Mr. DeWine's, to defend the clearly unconstitutional University of Cincinnati policies. The 1851 Center represents clients at no cost.

Multiple Ohio colleges and universities maintain speech restrictions similar in kind, although not as extensive, as those of the University of Cincinnati - - the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education recently named UC's speech policies the worst in the nation. However, these policies are suspect in light of the Court's clear ruling.

Click here to view the court's decision.

Click here to read more about the case.

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