In December attorneys with Alliance Defending Freedom filed a lawsuit in federal court against Arkansas State University after the school attempted to suppress free speech by its students.
ADF says the school has tried to limit speech to sanctioned “free speech” zones. The university’s policy reportedly restricts free speech to 1% of its Jonesboro campus.
Last year, when a student wanted to set up a table outside the student union to generate interest in forming a chapter of the group Turning Point USA on campus, a school administrator stopped her, citing the university’s speech policy.
Arkansas State University asked a court to dismiss ADF’s lawsuit. Today a federal judge rejected ASU’s request, meaning the lawsuit can go forward.
In a statement, Alliance Defending Freedom said,
A federal court Friday rejected Arkansas State University’s request to throw out a lawsuit that challenges the constitutionality of the ASU five-campus system’s restrictive speech policy. Among other things, the policy limits speech to roughly one percent of the Jonesboro campus.
Alliance Defending Freedom attorneys filed the lawsuit in December of last year on behalf of the organizers of a student organization, Turning Point USA, a non-partisan organization that educates students about the importance of fiscal responsibility, free markets, and limited government.
“Public universities can’t function properly as the ‘marketplace of ideas’ when university officials muzzle student free speech,” said ADF Senior Counsel Tyson Langhofer, director of the ADF Center for Academic Freedom. “Arkansas State’s speech policies contain provisions that courts have repeatedly struck down as unconstitutional at other schools, so it was fully appropriate for the court to reject the university’s request to throw out this lawsuit. The university can demonstrate its dedication to the free exchange of ideas by modifying its policies to comport with the First Amendment.”
When ASU student Ashlyn Hoggard and another individual with Turning Point USA attempted to set up a table outside the student union last year to generate interest in forming a chapter on campus, an administrator immediately stopped them, citing the university’s speech policy.
That policy unconstitutionally restricts speech activities to small zones on campus that total about one percent of the campus, requires advance permission for students to use the speech zones, and gives university officials free reign to restrict the content and viewpoint of student speech.
In the opinion and order denying Arkansas State’s motion to dismiss the lawsuit, Turning Point USA at Arkansas State University v. The Trustees of Arkansas State University, the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Arkansas wrote, “The university’s freedom of expression policy requires Hoggard to seek and receive the university’s permission before she is allowed to exercise first amendment freedoms on campus. The policy is a prior restraint on her first amendment rights, as interpreted by the Supreme Court, against which there is a ‘heavy presumption’ of unconstitutionality.”
Ethan Nobles, one of more than 3,200 attorneys allied with ADF, is serving as local counsel on behalf of Turning Point USA.
College campuses used to be places where students could freely exchange ideas. However, we are increasingly seeing attempts by school administrators to restrict speech on campus — especially speech by conservative and pro-life students.
Alliance Defending Freedom has an excellent track record litigating cases like this one in Jonesboro. Given that history — and today’s decision — it seems likely the school’s anti-speech policies will not hold up in court.
Jerry is the founder and president of Family Council. He began Family Council in 1989 after a successful effort to amend the Arkansas Constitution to prevent the use of public funds for abortions. He and his wife reside in Little Rock. They have four sons.