UMass-Amherst nixes unconstitutional speech zone policy
SPRINGFIELD, Mass. – In response to a student group’s lawsuit, University of Massachusetts Amherst has eliminated its highly restrictive speech policy that limited all “speeches and rallies” to less than one percent of campus and only between noon and 1 p.m. each day. In light of the changes made by the Board of Trustees as part of a preliminary settlement, Alliance Defending Freedom attorneys representing the campus chapter of Young Americans for Liberty and student Nicholas Consolini voluntarily dismissed their lawsuit.
“The only permission slip students need to speak on campus is the First Amendment. UMass-Amherst made the right move by eliminating this unconstitutional limit on student speech,” said ADF Legal Counsel Caleb Dalton. “A public university is hardly the marketplace of ideas it’s supposed to be when less than one percent of campus is open for only one hour a day. We commend YAL and these brave students for taking a stand and causing UMass to remove this speech zone that never should have existed in the first place.”
In January, ADF attorneys filed the lawsuit, Young Americans for Liberty at University of Massachusetts, Amherst v. Manning, in the U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts, Eastern Division, on behalf of Young Americans for Liberty’s UMass-Amherst chapter and Consolini.
YAL and Consolini wanted to host speeches and rally in publicly accessible open areas of campus outside the designated speech zone, but the university’s policy subjected them to sanctions if they did so.
The policy didn’t define “speech” or “rally,” instead leaving that decision up to the discretion of university officials and opening the door to unconstitutional discrimination based on a student group’s viewpoint. Giving a speech or holding a rally outside of the small speech zone—a space less than one percent of the campus—on the west side of the Student Union building and during hours other than between noon and 1 p.m. might have resulted in sanctions up to and including expulsion from the university.
“Restricting free speech rights to one hour a day on less than 1 percent of the campus is unconstitutional, no questions asked,” said YAL President Cliff Maloney Jr. “I applaud the UMass Board for their decision and hope this change will spark a wave of policy reform on college campuses across the country.”
“Today’s university students will be tomorrow’s voters and civic leaders,” said ADF Senior Counsel Tyson Langhofer, director of the ADF Center for Academic Freedom. “That’s why it’s so vital that public colleges and universities exemplify the First Amendment values they are supposed to be teaching to students.”
ADF-allied attorney Andrew Beckwith of Massachusetts Family Institute served as local counsel for the Young Americans for Liberty chapter. YAL at UMass-Amherst is a group of students who share a mutual respect for freedom and the natural rights of life, liberty, and property. The group is not political or partisan, and its members span the spectrum of political identities.
- Pronunciation guide: Langhofer (LANG’-hoff-ur)
The ADF Center for Academic Freedom is dedicated to ensuring freedom of speech and association for students and faculty so that everyone can freely participate in the marketplace of ideas without fear of government censorship.
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