No quarantining campus speech
University of Alabama administrators undermine state’s free speech law
A conservative student organization at University of Alabama filed a federal lawsuit last week challenging restrictive speech policies enacted last year by university trustees.
Young Americans for Liberty’s complaint contends that two campus policies violate the Alabama Constitution’s free speech guarantee and the state’s Campus Free Speech Act (FORUM), which took effect in July 2020. One requires permission from the school five days before students engage in expressive activity. The other confines all expressive activity to free speech zones, which make up less than 1 percent of campus.
Alabama’s free speech law broadly protects students’ right to “spontaneously and contemporaneously assemble, speak, and distribute literature,” essentially prohibiting restrictive free speech zones.
By approving the FORUM Act, Alabama joined a nationwide push to limit curbs on campus speech, partially triggered by controversial speakers. The University of Alabama had its share of free speech tension: An event with Jared Taylor, the editor of the controversial American Renaissance and a self-described “white advocate,” was canceled in 2018, and a 2019 speech by conservative commentator Ben Shapiro generated controversy as well. In Ohio, legislators passed a bill last year outlawing campus free speech zones. An increasing number of colleges are backing down on restrictive speech policies in the face of criticism.
Alliance Defending Freedom’s Tyson Langhofer, who represents the student organization, pointed to the need for university officials to model values like diversity and inclusion that they often tout: “We are grateful that Gov. [Kay] Ivey signed the FORUM Act into law, but now university officials must act consistently with that law to ensure that pro-liberty students—like all students—have the freedom to share their beliefs anywhere on campus, and without first asking college administrators for permission to speak.”
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