Four Universities Sued by FIRE for Free Speech Violations

Ohio University Academic and Research Center
Ohio University Academic and Research Center / Wikimedia Commons
• July 2, 2014 1:28 pm


The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) filed coordinated lawsuits against against four universities due to the schools' speech codes, which FIRE says are unconstitutional.

FIRE is suing Ohio University, Iowa State University, Chicago State University, and Citrus College (Calif.) for their restrictive policies on free speech.

The lawsuits are part of FIRE's Stand Up For Speech Litigation Project, which aims to put an end to universities' constraints on free speech through "targeted First Amendment lawsuits."

"Unconstitutional campus speech codes have been a national scandal for decades. But today, 25 years after the first of the modern generation of speech codes was defeated in court, 58 percent of public campuses still hold onto shockingly illiberal codes," said FIRE president Greg Lukianoff. "For 15 years, FIRE has fought for free speech on campus using public awareness as our main weapon, but more is needed. Today, we announce the launch of the Stand Up For Speech Litigation Project, an expansive new campaign to eliminate speech codes nationwide. We have already coordinated two lawsuits in the past nine months, and this morning we brought four more. The lawsuits will continue until campuses understand that time is finally up for unconstitutional speech codes in academia."

The cases include:

  • At Citrus College in California, student Vincenzo Sinapi-Riddle is challenging three unconstitutional policies, including a free speech zone that the school already agreed to abolish after a 2003 lawsuit. Not only did Citrus College reinstitute its "Free Speech Area," comprising a miniscule 1.37% of campus, but it also requires student organizations to undergo a two-week approval process for any expressive activity.
  • Iowa State University (ISU) students Paul Gerlich and Erin Furleigh, leaders of the university’s student chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML ISU), filed suit today after administrators censored T-shirts by creating a vague, overbroad, and retroactive rule that prohibits any use of the school’s name or trademarks to promote "dangerous, illegal or unhealthy products, actions or behaviors." Administrators claimed that a T-shirt with the message "NORML ISU Supports Legalizing Marijuana" would be interpreted as a university-wide endorsement of marijuana legalization.
  • At Chicago State University, administrators have repeatedly attempted to silence CSU Faculty Voice, a blog authored by Professors Phillip Beverly, Robert Bionaz, and other faculty members that exposes what they see as administrative corruption. After bogus accusations of trademark infringement failed to intimidate the professors, CSU hastily adopted a far-reaching cyberbullying policy to silence its critics. It then used the cyberbullying policy to investigate one of the faculty bloggers for harassment, leading to today’s lawsuit from Beverly and Bionaz.
  • Ohio University student Isaac Smith, a member of Students Defending Students, a student group that defends fellow students accused of campus disciplinary offenses at no cost, is suing his school for preventing group members from wearing T-shirts reading "We get you off for free"—a joke the group first used in the 1970s. This year, administrators suddenly claimed it "objectified women" and "promoted prostitution." Ohio University’s speech code, challenged in today’s lawsuit, forbids any "act that degrades, demeans, or disgraces" another.