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Published On: Mon, Feb 5th, 2018

Southern Illinois University–Edwardsville revises campus free speech policy, ends permits and ‘free speech zones’

Southern Illinois University–Edwardsville has revised its campus speech policy in light of a lawsuit Alliance Defending Freedom attorneys filed on behalf of a student group. Under the terms of a settlement agreement, the university will no longer limit student free speech activities to less than one percent of the SIU-Edwardsville campus and will no longer require a permit to use any other space outside that restricted zone.

Public domain image/Piotr VaGla Waglowski, http://www.vagla.pl

In October of last year, Alliance Defending Freedom attorneys representing the College Republicans filed a federal lawsuit against SIU-Edwardsville officials challenging the constitutionality of university policies that restricted student expression to a 905-square-foot zone encircling “the Rock” in Stratton Quadrangle. The zone made up .0013 percent of the university’s 69 million square feet of land.

“Of all places, public colleges and universities are supposed to be laboratories for democracy. Administrators should encourage, not silo or stifle, free expression,” said ADF Senior Counsel Tyson Langhofer, director of the ADF Center for Academic Freedom. “We commend the university for agreeing to adopt policies that ensure every student will be able to speak freely and peacefully, regardless of their political viewpoint and without fear of being punished.”

Under the settlement, SIU-Edwardsville has agreed to make several changes. First, it has eliminated the permit requirement requiring students to obtain advance approval from administrators in order to speak publicly on campus. Second, the university has agreed that all outdoor areas of the campus that are generally open to the public, not just the designated speech zone, will be available to students to speak with one another publicly without a permit. Additionally, the college agreed to pay the students’ damages and attorneys’ fees.

Under the previous speech policy, university officials had unlimited discretion to review content and viewpoint in a student organization’s permit request to determine whether the proposed speech was “controversial in nature.” Administrators could deny permits for speech deemed controversial or grant approval only if students agreed to pay burdensome security fees.

In light of the settlement agreement reached with university officials, ADF attorneys filed a stipulation of dismissal Friday with the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Illinois in College Republicans of SIUE v. Dunn. Noel Sterett and Whitman Brisky of Mauck & Baker LLC, two of more than 3,200 attorneys allied with ADF, are serving as local counsel for the College Republicans of SIUE.

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