Bill Would Protect Free Speech on Public College Campuses in Arkansas

Today Sen. Bob Ballinger (R – Berryville) and Rep. Dan Sullivan (R – Jonesboro) filed S.B. 156, the Forming Open and Robust University Minds (FORUM) Act.

This good bill prevents public colleges and universities from squelching free speech on campus.

In some states students and faculty have faced discipline and discrimination for sharing their faith or expressing their deeply held convictions. In Jonesboro, Arkansas State University adopted policies restricting free speech to roughly 1% of campus and requiring students to obtain approval from university officials before engaging in free speech.

The restrictions prompted a lawsuit against the university. Last fall, U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos publicly criticized the university’s restrictions on free speech.

S.B. 156 helps prevent public colleges and universities from imposing these unconstitutional restrictions on students and faculty. It protects students’ rights to peacefully assemble, speak, share literature, and exchange ideas.

It requires public colleges and universities to adopt policies protecting free speech on campus.

S.B. 156 is carefully worded. It does not allow violent speech, riots, harassment, or other unlawful conduct. It equally protects everyone’s right to free speech under the First Amendment.

For several months, Family Council has been working with attorneys at Alliance Defending Freedom to bring this good legislation to Arkansas.

We applaud Senator Ballinger and Representative Sullivan for introducing this well-crafted Alliance Defending Freedom model bill.

You can leave a message for your State Senator at 501-682-2902 urging him or her to vote for S.B. 156 the FORUM Act.

You can leave a message for your State Representative at 501-682-6211 urging him or her to do the same.

Please thank the lead sponsors of this bill:

Senator Bob Ballinger: bob.ballinger@senate.ar.gov (870) 350-5175

Representative Dan Sullivan: dan.sullivan@arkansashouse.org (870) 275-2929

This bill could be debated in the Senate Education Committee as early as next week. We plan to keep you posted on its progress.

Photo Credit: “Old Main from the northwest, University of Arkansas, Fayetteville, Arkansas (autumn)” by Brandonrush – Own work. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported.

Federal Secretary of Education Targets “Free Speech” Policy at ASU

Last week U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos criticized a “free speech” policy at Arkansas State University.

You may recall nearly a year ago 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. 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.

At an event in Philadelphia last week, DeVos acknowledged the situation and criticized the school’s policy, saying,

As the purpose of learning is forgotten, ignored or denied, we are inundated daily with stories of administrators and faculty manipulating marketplaces of ideas.

Take what recently happened to a student at Arkansas State University. She wanted to recruit for a student organization she was founding, but soon learned it first had to be approved by the university. Even then, she still had to apply for a permission slip to distribute materials.

And all of the activity had to occur within the confines of a “speech zone,” typically obscure, small, cordoned-off corners of campus where free expression is “permitted.” These so-called “free speech zones” are popping up on campuses across the country, but they’re not at all free.

The Arkansas State student proceeded to set up shop, and was promptly removed by a university administrator and a campus police officer. She’s suing, and a judge recently allowed the action to proceed.

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, it seems likely the school’s anti-speech policies will not hold up in court.

Court Says Free Speech Lawsuit Can Move Forward Against ASU

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.