UGA Sued for Limiting Free Speech

May 5, 2014 8:30 am

by Jon Richards · 10 comments

The University of Georgia is being sued by Alliance Defending Freedom over its policy of limiting student demonstrations and protests to the hours between 8 AM and 9 PM inside two “free speech zones.” The two areas, on the Tate and Memorial Hall Plazas, make up less then one percent of the Athens campus.

According to a news item posted on Friday by Campus Reform, the suit comes after the UGA chapter of Young Americans for Liberty was prohibited from displaying a national debt clock in a campus location other than the two plazas, despite other groups being able to express themselves outside of the defined zones. The incident took place back in 2011.

Blake Seitz, editor of the UGA student publication The Arch Conservative, told Peach Pundit the restrictions imposed by the college administration limit the free speech rights of students:

College campuses are usually thought of as forums where ideas can be aired, however controversial. For example, the only place left in England where individuals can say anything without fear of prosecution is the Union building at Oxford. The United States has a better record of protecting unpopular speech (cf. Brandenburg v. Ohio), but ironically free speech is most restricted at its public college and universities.

Students should be free to speak and organize as they please so long as they aren’t engaging in sedition or physically disrupting classes — high bars to clear for the censor. The current policy at UGA goes much further by restricting speech to two sites on campus. Those who wish to use the sites must file for the school’s approval in advance. Admirably, the administration has always been quick to grant approval, but the very fact that approval is necessary conflicts with the spirit of free speech. Demonstrations outside of the “free speech zones” are policed inconsistently: Young Americans for Liberty was forced to pack up its debt clock display, but other political groups have protested without reprimand.

Legal challenges to other schools’ free speech zone policies have been successful. Here in Georgia, ADF won a similar case filed in 2006 on behalf of Georgia Tech students Orit Sklar and Ruth Malhotra, alleging the two were subject to religious discrimination. Last month, the Virginia Community College System agreed to suspend its speech zone policy after a lawsuit was filed by a student who was forbidden to preach in an open area on the campus of Thomas Nelson Community College.

Does the ADF have a chance of prevailing at UGA? Seitz thinks so, pointing out a previous court decision. “The 2004 district court ruling in Roberts v. Haragan gives us an idea of what to expect from the case filed by YAL and ADF last week: ‘[T]o the extent [that a] campus has park areas, sidewalks, streets, or other similar common areas, these areas are public forums, at least for the University’s students, irrespective of whether the University has so designated them.’”

Of course, even if the ultimate result of the lawsuit is an expansion of where and when students can express themselves on campus, the censorship of conservative thought on campus is still an open question.

{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

greencracker May 5, 2014 at 9:17 am

There are “free speech zones” on campus? Where are we recruiting our college administrators from these days, Singapore?

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Speakers'_Corner,_Singapore

saltycracker May 5, 2014 at 10:32 am

One person’s free speech is another’s nuisance and disturbance. Try to read, shop, sit at a park bench/sidewalk cafe or concentrate on personal matters when someone is breaking the sound barrier. Don’t know how many public free speech areas are needed to vent ones opinion but it can’t be anywhere.

saltycracker May 5, 2014 at 10:43 am

BTW…My most recent encounters were in Florida and California from those pushing leaflets and blasting Christian love from amplifiers…….to the tune of shopkeepers banging their heads on their walls…

greencracker May 5, 2014 at 10:59 am

I’d agree it’s legit to make some ordinances based on nuisance abatement. I don’t really want free speech with loudspeakers on the sidewalk in front of my house 24-7. I don’t really want free speech on the Downtown Connector. I don’t want people unfurling long banners from the 17th St. bridge.

But Singapore makes its rules based on that it really, really doesn’t want free speech, in the way China doesn’t want free speech. Their rules are based on shutting people up, period; not shutting people up on residential streets at 2 a.m.

What’s UGA’s motive? I guess in dorms they have quiet hours, that’s legit IMHO. But why is political demonstration/speech limited to some “zones?” How about frat houses blasting Sweet Home Alabama all night? That’s something Ma Tech didn’t shut down.

saltycracker May 5, 2014 at 11:39 am

Got no dog in Singapore but if you want to make the sidewalks out front of the frat houses a 24/7 free speech area, ok. As long as the neighbors are frat houses too, good luck,

greencracker May 5, 2014 at 12:42 pm

I haven’t got any dog in Singapore, but I got a passel of inlaws. Nothin’ will make you appreciate living here like living there.

Unless you have lived in, like, Uzbekistan or something. I bet that place _really_ makes you appreciate home.

seenbetrdayz May 5, 2014 at 6:07 pm

Not a big fan of the ‘free speech zone’. There’s something terribly ironic about having barriers and signs arranged in a holding pen formation and within it you’ve got people exercising their rights. It reminds me a bit of the meme which cropped up after 9/11: “It’s not censorship, it’s freedom silence!” —Which at the time, I thought was funny, now it’s just more sad.

I also think we’ve got to be very careful about writing off the rights of others just because someone else thinks its a nuisance. I mean, heck, aren’t gun rights a nuisance to about 50% of the population? And here, we are just talking about words.

Bob_P May 5, 2014 at 6:46 pm

Have they installed fences around the free speech zones yet? Whenever I hear about these policies I imagine them that way.

elfiii May 6, 2014 at 7:00 am

If it is a public space, it’s a free speech zone. Period.

xdog May 6, 2014 at 9:13 pm

saltycracker is the only one of you who gets it. If YAL can show they have suffered from discrimination, that’s wrong and they get some redress. But it sounds like what they want is authority to do what they want whenever they want, regardless of who else is around. For that kind of display they should rent a hall or gather on their own property or yes, use the area the university has set aside for them.

Like all students, they use university grounds by sufferance. UGA doesn’t owe them anything except their best efforts to educate them. The school certainly doesn’t owe them an ad hoc on-demand round-the-clock forum.

If these LibertyLovers really want to get down with their FA rights, why don’t they move to the other side of Broad and see what the reaction is when they set up shop in front of Joe’s, Heery’s, Georgia Theater, or Ted’s. Capitalists take their property rights pretty seriously too.