A new free speech lawsuit has been filed in Alabama alleging that one of the state’s leading state universities – the University of Alabama at Huntsville (UAH) – is not only violating the Alabama constitution, but also a state law of 2019. This new law – the Campus Free Speech Act – specifically describes what public colleges and universities in the state can and cannot do when they are ‘acts to restrict freedom of speech on campus.
UAH is a public educational and research institution associated with the NASA space program and with Wernher von Braun, the famous German rocket specialist who moved to the United States after WWII to help with the American missile program. ballistics, which eventually became our space program. UAH has around 10,000 students on its campus.
It also has a restrictive speaking code that is challenged by members of the student chapter of Young Americans for Liberty (YAL), a national group that exists to promote the principles of individual freedom.
In the lawsuit filed by Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) on behalf of YAL, YAL alleges that the UAH requires students and groups who wish to speak on campus to obtain permission three days in advance, with a few exceptions for certain types of speech. And that, he argues, goes directly against the Campus Free Speech Act, which requires:
“That students, administrators, faculty and staff be free to take a stand on public controversies and engage in protected expression activities in areas outside the campus, and to collect, talk and distribute of literature in a spontaneous and contemporary way. »Code Ala. § 16-68-3
The law contains exceptions for speech that interferes with the protected expressive activity of another person. It also allows schools to “maintain and enforce constitutional restrictions of time, place and manner”, but they must adapt those restrictions narrowly to serve “important institutional interest”.
UAH goes far beyond what state law allows, according to YAL, by requiring permission three days in advance before engaging in expressive activity. According to YAL, even the exemptions from the permission requirement allowed by the UAH are flawed, as they illegally discriminate on the basis of the content of speech, and the policy restricts this “spontaneous” speech to certain designated “speech areas”. on the campus. And finally, the university retains unlimited discretion to impose other conditions.
YAL members are afraid to engage in expressive activity due to university policy and do not want to face disciplinary action for exercising their legal right to engage in expressive activity.
“Alabama law is clear: Students do not need permission from college officials to speak on campus, but the University of Alabama is doing exactly that. in Huntsville: Breaking the Law and Banning Speeches on Campus, ”Michael Ross, ADF Legal Counsel. said in a press release. “Public universities are the very places that should encourage free speech, not stifle it with cumbersome and illegal rules. “
YAL’s director of free speech JP Kirby also commented on the lawsuit in the same press release.
“Young Americans for Liberty exists to promote the principles of individual freedom, but the policies of the University of Alabama at Huntsville severely restrict the ability of our students to speak freely about these principles on campus,” Kirby said. “Students do not need a permit to express themselves freely on a public campus. And they don’t give up their constitutionally protected freedoms when they enter campus or have a specific point of view.
The lawsuit demands that the court find that UAH’s policy violates the campus free speech law as well as the free speech clause of the Alabama Constitution. He is also asking the court to issue an injunction prohibiting the university and its agents from carrying out the contested illegal policies.
Bruce Hausknecht is Focus on the Family’s forensic analyst. He researches and analyzes legal and judicial issues relating to Christians and the family, including issues of First Amendment freedom of religion and free speech, judicial selection, marriage, homosexuality and pro life. It also follows the legislative texts relating to these matters.