ACLU Urges UCF to Abandon ‘Free Speech Zones’

By January 29, 2007

As we mentioned last week, FIRE has written a second letter to the University of Central Florida (UCF) regarding its unwillingness to abandon unconstitutional “free speech zones” on campus. The UCF students leading the charge against the free speech zones are members of Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) and Campus Peace Action (CPA), whose protests and events have been disbanded time and again by campus police.

The website “New Left Notes” chronicles the latest fiascoes on campus involving UCF police officers shutting down student protests and enforcing inconsistent “free speech zone” policies, as last week’s blog describes.

George Crossley, president of the Central Florida ACLU, has worked with SDS and CPA for months, and even helped encourage the Student Government to adopt a resolution condemning the free speech zones. Last week, Crossley wrote a letter to UCF President John Hitt urging him to abandon the “Free Assembly Areas” policies that continually confine and curtail student political expression on campus. Crossley wrote:

For over a year, the Central Florida ACLU has been alerted to the chilling effect of UCF’s “free speech zones.” We are also aware of the growing opposition to these zones both on and off campus. We are proud to have joined a number of student groups who successfully petitioned to have the UCF Student Senate pass a resolution condemning these “free speech zones.”

The stated purpose of the “free speech zones” is to ensure “that the essential order of the University is preserved.” I am sure you would agree that part of the essential order of any university is, of course, the encouragement of the freedom of inquiry. The freedom of inquiry in turn can only flourish in an environment that is conducive to the freedom of speech, association and assembly. By severely limiting the freedoms that undergird the freedom of inquiry, the “free speech zones” create an intolerable contradiction that undermines the essential order of the University.

There are, of course, legitimate time place and manner restrictions on our fundamental freedoms of expression and assembly in public places. However, the restrictions prescribed by UCF in the form of “free speech zones” are unreasonably broad and oppressive. The “free speech zones” only serve to relegate critical forms of speech to marginal areas of the UCF campus while corporate logos and other forms of commercial speech enjoy an unparalleled command over the busiest transit and gathering areas on campus. As a consequence, instead of calling restricted speech areas “free speech zones,” it would be more apt to call them “free speech ghettoes.”

FIRE is delighted to work with the Central Florida ACLU toward the goal of eliminating the conflicting and unconstitutional “free speech zones” at UCF. Both FIRE and the Central Florida ACLU anxiously await UCF’s replies to our letters.

Schools: University of Central Florida