Getting the speech ball rolling
Free Speech | Mississippi college revises restrictive speech code
by Steve West
Posted 11/24/20, 03:54 pm
Student Michael Brown will get to play ball after all. His Mississippi college on Thursday settled a lawsuit and agreed to revise its restrictive speech code and pay $40,000 for his attorney fees and damages.
To recruit members for a college chapter of Young Americans for Liberty, Brown invited his fellow students to write messages on an oversized beach ball on the Jones County Junior College campus in Ellisville, Miss., last year. But campus police soon stepped in. Two months later, school officials stopped him again, this time for holding up a sign to poll students on marijuana legalization. College administrators told Brown that the college’s speech code required administrative approval and a minimum three-day waiting period before “gathering for any purpose” anywhere on campus.
The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education in September 2019 filed a lawsuit on Brown’s behalf challenging the “unfettered discretion” the speech code gave college administrators.
Under the settlement, the college agreed to adopt a new policy allowing students to express themselves without permission. The college joins 77 other institutions in adopting principles set forth by a committee at the University of Chicago that rejected the suppression of speech—even if some find it “offensive, unwise, immoral, or wrong-headed.”
Sofie Salmon, a freshman at the University of Wisconsin–River Falls, ran into a similar situation in September 2019 when she tried to roll a ball around campus and invite students to write messages on it and discuss free speech. After the Alliance Defending Freedom sent a letter, university administrators released a new policy affirming students’ rights to gather and express themselves. FIRE reports that 18 states have enacted legislation promoting campus free speech.
On Thursday, more than 700 Iowa State University students, employees, alumni, and parents signed an open letter urging university administrators to terminate the College Republicans’ official recognition as a student club after a post on the group’s Twitter account called for people to “arm up” on Nov. 7 after Joe Biden was declared the winner of the presidential election.
“Our thought in writing the tweet was to support everyone in their right to bear arms,” College Republicans President Ryan Hurley wrote in an email, reported the Ames Tribune. “People have sickly twisted it. Violence is not our intent.” College administrators rebuffed the request, citing a “disconnect between the law and First Amendment freedoms guaranteed by our Constitution.”
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Steve is a legal correspondent for WORLD. He is a graduate of World Journalism Institute, Wake Forest University School of Law, and N.C. State University. He worked for 34 years as a federal prosecutor and is now an attorney in private practice. Steve resides with his wife in Raleigh, N.C. Follow him on Twitter @slntplanet.