University of Alabama sued for restricting ‘spontaneous’ expression from students

Students from a Young Americans for Freedom chapter filed a lawsuit last week against the University of Alabama for requiring students to obtain a five-business-day permit to speak on campus, which they say violates a state law on freedom of expression.

Since requests for permission to speak are submitted to the university for approval, attorneys for students argue that university policy allows administrators to select the events or points of view they allow. They say the policy illegally prevents students from spontaneously expressing themselves or promoting their events.

The lawsuit argues that the university’s policy runs contrary to the Alabama Campus Freedom of Speech Act and the Freedom of Speech Clause of the Alabama Constitution, which prevents public universities from inhibiting free speech rights. of the students.

YAL is a national libertarian youth organization that promotes freedom on campuses. The group is represented by attorneys from the Alliance Defending Freedom, a non-profit legal organization that advocates for freedom of expression and has won several cases from the United States Supreme Court in recent years.

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“All students, regardless of their point of view, have the freedom to share their beliefs and participate in a civil debate on campus without first asking university administrators for permission to speak,” said ADF legal counsel Michael Ross, in a statement.

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“Universities are supposed to be the places where students have the freedom to explore diverse ideas and engage in meaningful and civil debate, but the University of Alabama is closing this debate with its onerous politics of discourse.”

YAL students often refrain from interacting with other students on gun control policy, federalism, and other policy issues due to “suppressive speech policies,” ADF reported.

“Young Americans for Liberty exists to promote the principles of individual liberty, but University of Alabama policies severely restrict our students’ ability to speak freely about these principles on campus,” said YAL’s director of free speech. , JP Kirby.

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“Students do not need a permit to speak freely on a public campus,” Kirby continued. “And they don’t give up their constitutionally protected freedoms when they walk onto campus or have a specific point of view.”

The university has seven designated “free speech zones” that make up less than 1% of the campus where students can engage in “spontaneous expression.”

“University officials cannot banish freedom of thought in the most remote corners of campus, keeping certain ideas out of sight and out of mind,” ADF tweeted Monday.

The lawsuit highlights how university policies have prevented the club from recruiting members, resulting in a decrease in funding for its organization.

The Christian Post reached out to the university to comment on the lawsuit. A response is pending.

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Tyson Langhofer, ADF senior adviser and director of the Center for Academic Freedom, said legal action would not be necessary if university officials respected state law protecting free speech on college campuses.

“Today’s college students are our future legislators, judges, and voters. That is why it is so important that public universities model the values ​​they are supposed to teach students and that Alabama colleges and universities follow state law, ”Langhofer said.

“We are grateful that Governor Ivey signed the FORUM Act [Forming Open and Strong University Minds] into law,” continued Langhofer, “but now university officials must act consistently with that law to ensure that students in favor of the freedom, like all students, they have the freedom to share their beliefs anywhere on campus, and without first asking the university administrators for permission to speak. ”

The 2021 Spotlight on Speech Codes, a study conducted by the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education [FIRE], revealed that 88% of American universities restricted freedom of expression in some way after surveying 478 colleges and universities.

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In March 2019, former President Donald Trump signed an executive order to deny grants to universities that stifle free speech and said that public institutions would not be allowed to violate the constitutional rights of their students.

“Under the guise of speech codes, safe spaces, and wake-up warnings, these universities have tried to restrict free thought, impose total conformity, and shut down the voices of great young Americans like the ones here today,” Trump said at that moment.

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