Why These College Students Are Suing the University of Alabama

A chapter of the Young Americans for Liberty at the University of Alabama in Huntsville wants the freedom to speak about issues like gun rights on campus and promote their group’s events. The school requires students to seek permission to speak three days in advance. The chapter believes that this requirement allows school administrators to discriminate based on viewpoint and alleges that the policy violates a state law that requires the government to respect students’ First Amendment rights.

Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), which represents the chapter, said the policies “illegally prevent students from engaging in spontaneous expression and from promoting their events. ”

Conservative and Christian groups and individuals at other schools have faced similar free-speech restrictions. For example, student Sofie Salmon at the University of Wisconsin at River Falls wanted to start a conservative club. She recruited students by having them sign a “free speech” ball on campus. The school told her to stop, claiming that a policy required students to reserve a space and limit speech to a public sidewalk on the edge of campus. The ADF sent the school a letter on Salmon’s behalf threatening a lawsuit, and the school rescinded the policy.

Another example: Gwinnett College in Georgia restricted speech to two small speech zones on campus opened only 18 hours per week and required students to reserve a time. The school also banned speech that “disturbs the peace and/or comfort” of others. Chike Uzuegbunam met all the school’s requirements to share his Christian faith, but a campus police officer pulled him aside and told him he had to stop speaking. Uzuegbunam filed a federal lawsuit. The college changed the policy but didn’t rectify their treatment of Uzuegbunam, so Gwinnett College will have to present its argument before the U.S. Supreme Court.

The Young Americans for Liberty chapter filed a federal lawsuit against the University of Alabama on First Amendment grounds. From ADF, which also represents Uzuegbunam:

The lawsuit argues that the university’s policies directly violate the state’s FORUM Act, a law explicitly prohibiting prior permission requirements and other suppressive measures. The FORUM Act helps ensure that public universities once again become places where intellectual diversity flourishes and all students can engage in the marketplace of ideas.

“Young Americans for Liberty exists to promote the principles of individual liberty, but the University of Alabama in Huntsville’s policies severely restrict our students’ ability to speak freely about these principles on campus,” said Young Americans for Liberty Director of Free Speech JP Kirby. “Students don’t need a permit to speak freely on a public campus. And they don’t give up their constitutionally protected freedoms when they step onto campus or hold a specific viewpoint.”

Photo credit: By J. Michael Scarborough – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, link

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