Saturday, December 17, 2005

Free speech battle comes to head at UNCG

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According to two posts ('Free Speech Zones To Go Up In Flames' and And so it begins....') on the Student-Customer Rights Campaign @ UNCG blog, the free speech battle being waged between students and the University Administration has come to a head. Two student organizers, Allison Jaynes and Robert Sinnott (members of the UNCG Libertarians) helped to organize a 40-person protest of the UNCG Free Speech Zone regulations on November 16, 2005. The protest, attended by students and community members, was held outside of the University's regulated 'free speech zones'. According to the post 'Free Speech Zones To Go Up In Flames':
“These students chose a very effective way to draw attention to UNCG’s unjust and unnecessary restrictions on freedom of speech,” remarked FIRE Director of Legal and Public Advocacy Greg Lukianoff. “It is shameful that they are now threatened with punishment for their peaceful protest of a repressive policy.” UNCG College Libertarians Allison Jaynes and Robert Sinnott helped organize a quiet, 40-person rally for free speech on November 16 on a lawn in front of the campus library. When an administrator approached Jaynes and demanded that she move the protest to the “free speech zone,” she refused, citing the First Amendment. The protest continued, but a few days later Jaynes and Sinnott were charged with a “violation of Respect” for refusing to move. “Students cannot be required to ‘respect’ an unconstitutional order stemming from an unconstitutional policy,” stated Lukianoff. “Allison, Robert, and the other students involved should be commended for standing up for their First Amendment rights, not treated as campus criminals.” UNCG’s policies specify two small areas of campus as “free speech and assembly areas,” with 48 hours’ notice required for demonstrations even in those areas. Any protests outside those zones require a written request 48 hours before the event, which the university can deny.
The free speech case has been taken by The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), which has tried to work with University officials, including Chancellor Patricia Sullivan, Ph.D., in resolving this issue:
FIRE wrote UNCG Chancellor Patricia Sullivan on December 5, requesting that she dismiss any disciplinary charges and revoke UNCG’s unconstitutional policy and citing FIRE’s victories against similar speech zones at Texas Tech and other public universities. FIRE also reminded Sullivan that while reasonable time, place, and manner restrictions may be acceptable, “[t]here is nothing ‘reasonable’…about transforming the vast majority of the university’s property—indeed, public property—into a ‘censorship area.’” University Counsel Lucien Capone responded on December 9, citing a Fourth Circuit case called ACLU v. Mote that determined that “free speech zones” may be acceptable when applied to strangers from off campus—not students. Capone acknowledged that this case may not apply to students and said that a committee formed by Chancellor Sullivan was already revisiting the policy, but that it would take more time to come to a conclusion. Capone also said that UNCG did not review requests for protests outside the zones for content, but pointed to no policy language supporting this assertion. “While we are glad that UNCG is ‘revisiting’ its unjust policy, Mote simply does not apply to this situation. There is no reason for UNCG to err on the side of repression while it considers whether free speech is too much for its adult students to handle,” noted Lukianoff. “Freedom of speech must not be made to wait on the dithering of a university committee.”
University conduct hearing for Allison Jaynes and Robert Sinnott are set for January. ====== Now, for my personal piece: I usually just stick to LGBT-related issues here on this blog. Issues such as this one are usually featured by myself only on the SCRC blog. I thought, however, that it would be important to post about this here. In a way, this does have an affect on LGBT students. If LGBT student ever did decide to organize and want to protest an action of the University, they would be just as hindered by the free speech rules as the Libertarians were. What the University is doing is unconstitutional. Since UNCG is a public university and the institution itself is an agency of the Government of the State of North Carolina, the entire campus is public property and therefore open to students' and citizens' use of their Constitutionally protected freedom of speech, assembly and association. For more information about the UNCG Free Speech controversy please keep updated with the Student-Customer Rights Campaign @ UNCG blog. More information from FIRE can be found at www.thefire.org/uncg. Technorati Tags: , , , , , , , ,,

2 Comments:

It is also problematic that the Administration can deny the permits in the speech zones. Time, Place, and Manner restrictions are not generally constitutional when they permit any such administrative discretion.
Matt,

Funny how tyranny brings together people on the opposite sides of other issues. I don't think there is any place in our country where freedom of speech and assembly is more hindered and violated than in our universities. So, where is the ACLU on this? You'd think they would be leading the charge. When I was in college I helped lead a small scale student revolt against the Clemson administration's plans to tear down the beloved old amphitheatre at Clemson. We had a huge somewhat raucus demonstration and eventually they backed down. Would not have worked if we had had to stay in some "free speech zone." Can you imagine the 60's with "free speech zones?" This "free speech zone" thing should strike fear into the hearts of liberals and conservatives alike.
posted by Blogger Joel at 12/27/2005 03:33:00 PM