A Philadelphia-based nonprofit devoted to defending free speech and civil liberties on college campuses filed four lawsuits on Tuesday and announced the launch of its Stand Up For Speech Litigation Project, “a national effort to eliminate unconstitutional speech codes through targeted First Amendment lawsuits.”
The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), founded in 1999 by University of Pennsylvania professor Alan Charles Kors and Boston civil liberties lawyer Harvey Silverglate, brought lawsuits against Citrus College in California, Iowa State University, Chicago State University, and Ohio University. The suits allege that administrations violated student and faculty rights through unconstitutional speech codes that infringe on free expression.
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“These violations are ironic because college campuses have been uniquely recognized as the quintessential ‘marketplace of ideas’ upon which the concept of the First Amendment is based,” said Robert Corn-Revere, the attorney hired to represent the students and faculty in these cases.
While FIRE and other organizations have successfully challenged several speech codes in court over the years, restrictive rules on campus speech have still “flourished,” Corn-Revere told the Chronicle of Higher Education.
At Citrus College, FIRE is challenging three unconstitutional policies, including the establishment of a tiny free speech zone and a requirement that all student groups request permission two weeks in advance of an expressive activity; the “cumbersome bureaucratic approval process” is tantamount to “unconstitutional prior restraint,” the lawsuit reads.
At Iowa State, censorship of a T-shirt is the central issue — specifically, the rejection of T-shirt designs proposed by the NORML ISU chapter. Citing a policy that prohibits student groups from associating the ISU name with promotion of “dangerous, illegal or unhealthy products, actions or behaviors” and “drugs and drug paraphernalia,” the administration refused to allow even a T-shirt that read: NORML ISU Supports Legalizing Marijuana. “In doing so, the Defendants confused political advocacy with illegal conduct and, in the process, suppressed speech protected by the First Amendment,” according to the lawsuit.
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