LUBBOCK, Texas— A federal district court judge yesterday struck down Texas Tech University’s policy of restricting spontaneous student speech and leafleting to "free speech zones" on campus. The court also struck down the school’s "speech code" that banned all student speech considered "insulting" or "ridiculing" by the listener anywhere on campus.
"The university’s policies were among the biggest violations of the free speech rights of students that I have ever seen," said Kevin Theriot, an Alliance Defense Fund attorney based in Kansas City, Mo. "The First Amendment is valid everywhere, not just in zones designated by university officials. The university cannot constitutionally regulate politically correct speech."
Originally, the university’s policies restricted student speech to a single "free speech gazebo" on campus unless students first obtained permission from university officials. After ADF attorneys filed suit, the university created additional "free speech zones" but did not remove the requirement to obtain permission before speaking anywhere else on campus. The university also did not amend its literature distribution or speech code policies.
"The school’s speech code was a restriction that could easily have restricted Christian speech expressing a particular moral point of view," said Theriot. "Students who wish to exercise their First Amendment rights should not have to seek permission from the school to do so."
Attorneys with ADF, along with local counsel Ronnie Agnew of the law firm Agnew & Thompson, LLP, filed the lawsuit, Jason W. Roberts v. Donald R. Haragan, et al., in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas, Lubbock Division, on behalf of Roberts, a Texas Tech student. Attorneys Kelly Shackelford and Hiram Sasser of the Liberty Legal Institute in Plano also appeared as counsel supporting ADF’s efforts in the suit.
The court today struck down the speech code regulation, the regulation that requires students to get permission to express themselves on the outdoor campus grounds outside of the "free speech zones," and the regulation that required students to get approval before distributing leaflets on the outdoor campus grounds. It also issued a "cease and desist" order, forbidding school officials from enforcing the unconstitutional policies.
Regarding the requirement that students get permission before speaking outside the free speech zones, District Court Judge Sam Cummings wrote, "The University is not…permitted to control such casual conversation and otherwise non-disruptive expressive activity in the public forums on campus."
Either through funding or direct litigation, ADF has won victories for the religious expression rights of students at several well-known universities.
ADF is a legal alliance of Christian attorneys and like-minded organizations defending the right of people to freely live out their faith. Launched in 1994, ADF employs a unique combination of strategy, training, funding, and litigation to protect and preserve religious liberty, the sanctity of life, marriage, and the family.