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ADF files two appeals with U.S. Supreme Court over right of students to fight policies that muzzle speech

Calif., Md. cases spur question: Can students challenge policies that stifle them?
Jonathan Lopez

WASHINGTON — Attorneys with the Alliance Defense Fund filed two appeals Wednesday with the U.S. Supreme Court asking it to resolve a stark disagreement between federal appeals courts as to whether students can challenge college speech codes that regulate every human interaction they have on campus.

“Christian and pro-life students should not have to suffer under unconstitutional speech codes and risk their academic careers before they can challenge such policies in court,” said ADF Senior Counsel David French. “We hope the Supreme Court will intervene to uphold students’ First Amendment protected rights and establish that students have the legal right to challenge speech codes that muzzle their speech.”

One case involves a lawsuit that began when a professor at Los Angeles City College in California called a student a “fascist bastard,” accused him of offending others, and wrote “Ask God what your grade is” on his speech evaluation after he spoke about his faith and the meaning of marriage during an assigned classroom speech. The other case involves a pro-life student group at the University of Maryland-Baltimore County that was forced to move a display to a deserted location on campus because it might “emotionally harass” students.

In both instances, the students were threatened with punishment under the speech code, and both cases address the ability of students to challenge the constitutionality of those codes.

The petitions explain that the decisions made in the two cases run counter to similar decisions made by the U.S. Courts of Appeals for the 3rd, 6th, and 7th Circuits. As the petition in one of the cases explains, “In a campus environment rife with speech-restrictive policies, this split threatens to (further) stifle the marketplace of ideas on campus and cause college students to self-censor rather than risk punishment under various--and manifestly unconstitutional--speech policies. This Court should intervene to clear up the confusion and confirm a simple proposition: a student whose speech is chilled by the speech code of the university he or she attends has standing to challenge it to vindicate the First Amendment.”

In Lopez v. Candaele, a district court issued an injunction against the speech code, but the 9th Circuit reversed the decision. In Rock for Life v. Hrabowski, a district court ruled that the pro-life group lacked standing to challenge the speech code, and the 4th Circuit upheld that determination.

Sam Kim and Michael Parker, two of nearly 1,900 attorneys in the ADF alliance, are serving as local counsel in the Lopez v. Candaele case. ADF-allied attorney Steven Tiedemann is serving as local counsel in Rock for Life v. Hrabowski.

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.