EAST ST. LOUIS, Ill.
– A Republican student group filed suit Wednesday against Southern Illinois University officials for restricting student expression on the university’s Edwardsville campus to a tiny speech zone that makes up less than .0013 percent of campus. In addition, all student organizations must obtain permission in advance to use the speech zone, and university policies leave approval of who can use the zone and what types of literature can be distributed on campus up to the free discretion of campus officials.
Alliance Defending Freedom attorneys representing the College Republicans of SIUE explain that those 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.”
As the complaint
filed with the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Illinois in College Republicans of SIUE v. Dunn
explains, the 905-square-foot speech zone is within 20 feet of an area known as “The Rock” in Stratton Quadrangle. The university’s Speech Zone Policy requires prior permission to use the speech zone.
Although, technically, student organization events can be held outside the speech zone, a 90-day notice requirement and numerous other rules make them exceedingly difficult to schedule. If a student group doesn’t notify the director of university police at least 90 days in advance of such an event, and university officials determine, in their sole discretion, that additional security is necessary, the student group will be responsible for the costs of additional security as determined by SIUE. The speech zone policy permits university officials to consider the requesting student organization’s content and viewpoint to determine whether its desired event is “controversial in nature” and therefore subject either to security fees or denial.
In addition, the SIUE Solicitation Policy requires approval from university administrators before anyone can hand out any type of literature at any time. The administrators are not bound by any written criteria for approving or disapproving handouts, fliers, and other 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.