Skip to content

College students seek freedom to speak, associate anonymously

ADF attorneys file friend-of-the-court brief with 10th Circuit on behalf of Young America’s Foundation, Manhattan Institute
Hey University Students: Know Your Rights on Campus Before the Semester Starts

DENVER – Alliance Defending Freedom attorneys filed a proposed friend-of-the-court brief Tuesday with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit urging it to protect Americans’ right to speak and associate anonymously, free from government-mandated disclosure.

ADF attorneys filed the proposed brief in Speech First v. Shrum on behalf of Young America’s Foundation and the Manhattan Institute. In it, they explain that government entities have subjected YAF, like Speech First, to unlawful demands that it turn over its membership lists as a condition to filing suit in federal court. Members of YAF, and other students with similar views, often face persistent hostility on college campuses for their religious or political beliefs and, thus, reasonably desire their association with the student organization to remain anonymous.

“The First Amendment protects Americans’ freedom to speak and associate anonymously, and the government can’t categorically force student organizations to publicly disclose their member lists,” said ADF Legal Counsel Mathew Hoffmann. “As we explain in our brief, free speech—not censorship—promotes true understanding and allows all of us to remain faithful to the individual liberties that make our country great. YAF, Manhattan Institute, and Speech First understand the importance of the First Amendment’s anonymity protections.”

In the case, Oklahoma State University officials allegedly violated students’ constitutionally protected rights by enforcing vague and overly broad policies that censor students’ speech based on their viewpoints. Speech First filed suit on behalf of its student-members at the university. But the district court required Speech First to reveal those members’ identities if it wanted to proceed with the case.

“YAF and MI understand that robust debate on all sides of issues furthers the academic functioning of schools and universities. But it is impossible to have debate of any sort when one side labels everything the other side says as ‘hateful’ or ‘offensive,’ then uses those pejoratives to shut down dialogue altogether, stifling dialogue and deterring those who disagree from expressing their true views,” the brief explains.

“I’m proud to stand with YAF and ADF on this important case supporting Speech First’s latest challenge to speech-stifling university policies,” said Ilya Shapiro, director of constitutional studies at Manhattan Institute. “College students shouldn’t have to subject themselves to official sanction and unofficial cancelation to challenge illiberal policies.”

“Young America’s Foundation stands firmly alongside students from Oklahoma State University as they bravely defend their constitutional rights,” said Vic Bernson, vice president and general counsel of YAF. “The ability to express one’s beliefs free from retaliation is a bedrock principle of our nation and must be protected. YAF will continue to fight on behalf of these ideals enshrined in the First Amendment.”

Alliance Defending Freedom is an alliance-building, non-profit legal organization committed to protecting religious freedom, free speech, parental rights, and the sanctity of life.

# # #

Related Profiles

Mathew Hoffmann
Mathew Hoffmann
Legal Counsel
Mathew Hoffmann serves as legal counsel for Alliance Defending Freedom, where he is a key member of the Center for Academic Freedom.