July 2, 2014

JAMES TARANTO: Free Speech Movement: Four lawsuits challenge campus censorship.

FIRE is attempting to light one. The Philadelphia-based Foundation for Individual Rights in Education today filed four lawsuits challenging campus censorship at institutions across the country:

• At Citrus Community College in Glendora, Calif., Vincenzo Sinapi-Riddle “was threatened with removal from campus by an administrator for asking a fellow student to sign a petition protesting NSA surveillance of American citizens.” He was accused of expressive activity without a permit and outside the designated “free speech zone,” which according to FIRE’s calculations “comprises just 1.37% of campus.”

• At Iowa State University, two members of the campus chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, had “received university approval for a group T-shirt that featured ISU mascot Cy the Cardinal’s head in place of the ‘O’ in NORML.” But “criticism from members of the public and state officials” led the university not only to rescind approval of the shirt but to ban another “that simply said ‘NORML ISU Supports Legalizing Marijuana.’ ”

• At Chicago State University, the plantiffs are faculty members who write for a blog called CSU Faculty Voice, which “is often highly critical of the CSU administration’s perceived corruption and incompetence.” The blog’s logo is a photo of a CSU sign, with “Chicago” crossed out and “Crony” written in, along with the logo “Where we hire our friends.”

• At Ohio university, student Isaac Smith belongs to a group called Students Defending Students, which “provides free assistance to students accused of campus misconduct.” Administrators ordered Smith and his fellow members to stop wearing a shirt promising “We get you off for free,” on the ground that it “objectified women” and “promoted prostitution.”

The four cases are part of a new FIRE effort called the Stand Up for Speech Litigation Project, which also encompasses two earlier cases, one from California’s Modesto Junior College and one from the University of Hawaii at Hilo, in which–no joke–administrators tried to prevent students from distributing copies of the U.S. Constitution on campus. Although he wasn’t referring to these cases, they bring to mind Ezra Klein’s infamous observation: “The issue of the Constitution is that the text is confusing because it was written more than 100 years ago.”

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