EAST ST. LOUIS (Heartland Newsfeed) — A conservative student group filed suit against Southern Illinois University officials Wednesday for restricting student expression and freedom of speech on the Edwardsville campus to an excessive small “free speech zone” making up less than 0.0013 percent of the entire campus.
All student organizations on campus have to obtain advance permission before using the zone, forced to follow the University’s policies on what can be approved to be held there and what kinds of literature can be distributed.
A press release from Alliance Defending Freedom attorneys representing the College Republicans of SIUE explain that these officials aren’t required to follow any written criteria in the use of their discretion and are permitted to make decisions based on a group’s or speaker’s viewpoint, which is unconstitutional.
“The only permission slip that a student needs to speak in the common areas of a public university campus is the First Amendment,” said ADF senior counsel Tyson Langhofer. “Southern Illinois University has instituted a draconian policy that not only restricts speech to the tiniest of locations, but adds additional hurdles that make it very tough to speak or hand out literature even within the zone. If that wasn’t unconstitutional enough, university officials are allowed to approve or disapprove speakers and handouts based on their point of view.”
The complaint filed in the U.S. District Court’s southern Illinois district in College Republicans of SIUE v. Dunn explains the allocated 905-square-foot speech zone is within 20 feet of an area known as “The Rock” in Stratton Quad and that the University’s Speech Zone Policy requires prior permission to use the speech zone.
While on a technicality, student organizations can hold events outside of the speech zone, but it requires a 90-day notice along with numerous other rules making events exceedingly difficult to schedule. Should a student group not notify the director of SIUE University Police at least 90 days prior to an event and university officials determine at their discretion that additional security is necessary, the student group is stuck with the bill for additional security because the university says so. University officials claim this is to deter any “controversial in nature” speakers from holding events at the university.
SIUE’s Solicitation Policy dictates what kind of literature can be distributed at any point of time and requires approval from administrators, but are not bound to any specific written criteria for approving and/or disapproving handouts, flyers and other forms of literature.
“Today’s college students will be tomorrow’s legislators, judges, educators, and voters. That’s why it’s so important that public colleges and universities demonstrate the First Amendment values they are supposed to be teaching to students,” said ADF senior counsel Casey Mattox, director of the ADF Center for Academic Freedom. “Southern Illinois University says that it wants to encourage free discourse and debate on campus. If that is true, it will modify its policies so that they are constitutional and so that robust dialogue can actually take place.”
ADF-allied attorneys Noel Sterett and Whitman Brisky of Mauck & Baker LLC are serving as local counsel for the College Republicans of SIUE.