Dixie State University to Revise Policies to Protect Free Speech

Will suspend speech codes

Dixie State University, located in St. George, Utah, announced Tuesday it will suspend its unconstitutional speech codes and amend other policies after a lawsuit filed by three students challenged the university and its restriction of their free speech.

Dixie State President Richard Williams announced in an email to the campus community that the university will revise its policies and suspend its speech codes.

"As we work toward writing an updated, comprehensive free speech policy, the administration is mindful of Dixie State’s mission, which is to be ‘a teaching institution that strives to enrich its community and the lives of its students by promoting a culture of learning, values, and community," Williams wrote.

"Dixie State University is a campus of academic freedom, with the right to inquire broadly and to question, and where even unpopular answers, seemingly absurd ideas, and unconventional thought are not only permitted, but even encouraged," Williams said.

The First Amendment lawsuit against the university was filed in March after students were banned from handing out promotional flyers for student group Young Americans for Liberty that negatively portrayed Presidents Barack Obama, George W. Bush, and Cuban revolutionary Che Guevara.

The flyers were not approved because the school policy does not permit students to "disparage" or "mock individuals."

Students William Jergins, Joey Gillespie, and Forrest Gee filed a lawsuit in federal court against Dixie State for restricting their free speech rights.

Aside from being banned from handing out the flyers, a university administrator on another occasion decided the YAL group’s "free speech wall" event would have to take place at the campus’ free speech zone—a location unknown to the students and other administrators.

The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education supported the lawsuit, which challenged Dixie State’s flyer approval process, the university’s "free speech zone," and student club event policies.

All those policies have now been suspended.

"The Dixie State University administration clearly recognizes that its speech codes infringed on the free speech rights of its students and are reacting accordingly," said Nico Perrino, associate director of communications at FIRE, in an email.

"When FIRE works to challenge speech codes at public universities like Dixie State, the administrations rarely put much effort into defending them. This presents an interesting question, then: Why do 54 percent of public colleges and universities maintain blatantly unconstitutional speech codes in the first place?" Perrino said.

FIRE indicated it would continue to monitor Dixie State to ensure that the university’s apparent recognition of First Amendment principles translates into meaningful policy reform.

"Students shouldn’t need to go to a free speech zone or ask permission from administrators to exercise their free speech rights on a public university campus," FIRE president and CEO Greg Lukianoff said in a prepared statement.

"Universities like Dixie State are increasingly recognizing that speech codes are losers in both the court of law and the court of public opinion, and they are declining to defend them when challenged," Lukianoff said.

One of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit said Dixie State’s actions Tuesday were encouraging.

"Students at Dixie State pay a lot of money to learn in an environment that is protective of their First Amendment rights," Jergins said.

"Despite Dixie State’s reluctance to ensure that campus policies fully protect free speech and inquiry, the university’s suspension of its troublesome speech codes is an encouraging first step toward the open learning environment Dixie State students want and deserve."