University of Cincinnati: Speech Code Litigation

Category: Free Speech
Schools: University of Cincinnati

In 2012, FIRE coordinated a legal challenge to an unconstitutional free speech zone policy at the University of Cincinnati (UC) that limited all “demonstrations, pickets, and rallies” to a “Free Speech Area” comprising just 0.1% of the university’s 137-acre West Campus. The policy further required all activity in the free speech zone to be registered ten working days in advance, threatening that “[a]nyone violating this policy may be charged with trespassing.” After UC’s Young Americans for Liberty (YAL) chapter was told it could not gather signatures and talk to students across campus in support of a statewide “right to work” ballot initiative, FIRE secured the assistance of Ohio’s 1851 Center for Constitutional Law for YAL’s lawsuit. In June 2012, United States District Judge Timothy S. Black held that the policy “violates the First Amendment and cannot stand” and issued a preliminary injunction against its enforcement. Black then issued a permanent injunction in August 2012, forbidding the policy’s reinstatement. UC’s loss in court follows years of ignoring FIRE’s warnings about the policy’s constitutional flaws dating back to December 2007, when it was named FIRE’s Speech Code of the Month.
















    • U. of Cincinnati loses free speech lawsuit – is another Ohio college next?

      August 23, 2012

      As a native of Toledo, Ohio (Go Mud Hens!), I guess I should be happy that my home state is so flush with cash that it had $200,000 in taxpayer funds to waste in the latest doomed attempt by a public university to violate the constitutional rights of its students. Since 2007, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE, where I work) has been warning the University of Cincinnati (UC) that confining student speech to a tiny “Free Speech Area” that covered a mere 0.1% of the school’s 137-acre campus is unconstitutional. UC was dead serious about enforcing this policy — the school […]

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    • District Court: Campuses Can’t Quarantine Free Speech

      August 23, 2012

      by Greg Lukianoff The Huffington Post When I posted the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education’s (FIRE, where I work) list of the 12 Worst Colleges for Free Speech back in March, we chose not to present the schools in any particular order. But it was no accident that we opened our list with the University of Cincinnati. The school had truly earned its place on the list by restricting free speech on campus to a tiny spot that comprised just 0.1 percent of the school’s 137-acre campus — and by threatening students who wanted to get a petition signed outside of that miniscule zone with […]

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    • Campus speech

      August 23, 2012

      A federal judge ordered the University of Cincinnati to liberate its “free speech zone,” a small plot on the campus where students can exercise their First Amendment speech rights without interference or restriction. The restriction also applied to gathering petition signatures. “Limiting student expression to just 0.1% of the campus was bad enough. Threatening to call police if students were caught gathering signatures for a petition was even worse. The decision to waste taxpayer money defending such unconstitutional censorship was completely indefensible,” said Greg Lukianoff, president of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education.    

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    • Univ. of Cincinnati Wrongly Barred Students from Passing Right-to-Work Petitions on Campus, Federal Judge Says

      June 20, 2012

      (CNSNews.com) - A federal judge in Cincinnati has ruled that the University of Cincinnati (UC) violated the First Amendment rights of students when the university barred a conservative student group from gathering signatures on campus for a statewide ballot initiative to support the right-to-work in Ohio. U.S. District Court Judge Timothy Black ruled unconstitutional regulations set in place by the university that had prohibited the students from collecting signatures on campus, had required them to register for up to 15 days before engaging in political speech, and threatened them with arrest for violation of the rules. In his ruling, Judge Black […]

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    • U Cincinnati Free Speech Restrictions Struck Down in Court

      June 19, 2012

      United States District Judge Timothy S. Black has ruled that the University of Cincinnati’s free speech zone violates the First Amendment and cannot stand. Prior to today’s court order, UC had required all “demonstrations, pickets, and rallies” to be held in a “Free Speech Area” that comprises just 0.1% of the university’s 137-acre West Campus. University policy further required that all expressive activity in the free speech zone be registered with the university a full ten working days in advance, threatening that “[a]nyone violating this policy may be charged with trespassing.” The order prohibits UC from enforcing their policy and is […]

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    • University Of Cincinnati Free Speech Zones Ruled Unconstitutional By Federal Judge

      June 14, 2012

      A federal court told the University of Cincinnati it must rewrite policies restricting protests on campus. U.S. District Judge Timothy Black ruled Tuesday that UC was violating students’ free speech rights by restricting protests to a “free speech zone” and by requiring prior notification and permission. “It is simply unfathomable that a UC student needs to give the university advance notice of an intent to gather signatures for a ballot initiative,” Black wrote in a preliminary injunction. “There is no danger to public order arising out of students walking around campus with clipboards seeking signatures.” The ruling was issued in a case brought by the […]

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    • ‘Right to work’ students sue University of Cincinnati over ‘Free Speech Area’

      February 24, 2012

      Zero point one percent. Out of the 8,506,833 square feet (approximately 137 acres) of its West Campus, the University of Cincinnati (UC), a public university, has decided that students may exercise their rights to “demonstrate, picket, or rally” on a small scrap of land that constitutes 0.1 percent of the campus. If they dare to exercise these basic rights outside of that “Free Speech Area,” they will be reported to the campus police and charged with trespassing. Oh, and students cannot even indulge in free expression on this scrap of land unless they file an official request with the administration […]

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    • Speech Code of the Month: Colorado Mesa University

      April 7, 2014

      FIRE announces its Speech Code of the Month for April 2014: Colorado Mesa University. Colorado Mesa’s policy on “Free Speech” limits students’ expressive activities to just one “concrete patio” on the university’s 86-acre campus. While the university has the right to enact reasonable time, place, and manner restrictions, courts have held time and again that onerous restrictions like this one are not reasonable.

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    • Support FIRE’s Fight Against Free Speech Zones

      December 24, 2013

      The free speech gazebo. 0.1%. A “little cement area.” 10-day advance registration. As far too many students sadly know, the vocabulary of campus free speech zones provides a ready example of the absurdity of campus censorship. This year, administrators at Modesto Junior College proved just how far that absurdity extends when they prohibited student Robert Van Tuinen from distributing copies of the Constitution on Constitution Day simply because he hadn’t met the requirements of the school’s free speech zone policy. Robert’s experience isn’t all that unique. Rather than celebrating free expression, too many of our colleges and universities confine it to small areas, restrict it […]

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    • U. of Cincinnati Cartoon: Crude? Perhaps. Protected Speech? Absolutely!

      September 24, 2013

      It’s been only a little over a year since a federal court ruled squarely against the University of Cincinnati’s blatantly unconstitutional “free speech zone,” so naturally one would think that administrators there would be boning up on their First Amendment law. Sadly, though, this may not be the case. According to a September 30 column by Nick DeSantis in The Chronicle of Higher Education, Cincinnati administrators are still struggling with the concept that students at public universities have a constitutionally protected right to freedom of speech. The controversy came about after an anonymous student apparently circulated this cartoon (PDF). DeSantis […]

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    • Don’t Cage My Speech! A Student Schools His College (VIDEO)

      September 12, 2013

      When Chris Morbitzer and his University of Cincinnati (UC) chapter of Young Americans for Liberty sought permission to gather signatures across UC’s campus for a time-sensitive, statewide ballot initiative, their request was denied. Morbitzer was told that if he and his group were seen gathering signatures outside of the school’s tiny and restrictive “free speech zone,” campus security would be called and they could be arrested. “I think it is absurd that they were threatening to put me in jail for exercising what is a constitutional right,” says Morbitzer in FIRE’s latest video. Dismayed that he might not be able […]

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    • Learning and Unlearning Liberty at the U. of Cincinnati

      August 28, 2012

      Last week, we brought you news of the final nail in the University of Cincinnati’s (UC’s) “free speech zone” coffin: A federal district court in Ohio issued a permanent injunction against UC’s unconstitutional policy restricting student expressive activity to a tiny area of campus and requiring students to register such activity with the university ten working days in advance. The court’s order made final its earlier decision, via preliminary injunction, to enjoin the university from enforcing the policy. As we have happily declared, last week’s ruling is a significant win for students’ First Amendment rights on campus. The News Record, […]

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    • FIRE VP Shibley Wonders: Does Ohio Have Infinite Money to Burn?

      August 24, 2012

      FIRE’s Robert Shibley has taken to The Daily Caller to report on FIRE’s latest speech code litigation victory at the University of Cincinnati. For more on the case and Cincinnati’s disregard for free speech (and apparently the wise stewardship of taxpayer funds), visit The Daily Caller.

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    • Ignoring FIRE is Expensive

      August 23, 2012

      With the “free speech zone” policy at the University of Cincinnati’s inevitable failure in federal court yesterday, FIRE President Greg Lukianoff took to The Huffington Post today to remind universities that when FIRE says a speech code is unconstitutional, they should probably listen—lest they cost taxpayers money. The 1851 Center for Constitutional Law, the organization FIRE partnered with to coordinate the challenge, reports that $200,000 of taxpayer funds were authorized for use to defend the doomed speech code.   To put it simply, that’s wasted money, and UC should have dismantled its free speech zone years ago. As Greg states […]

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    • Federal Court Delivers Final Blow to U. of Cincinnati ‘Free Speech Zone’

      August 22, 2012

      Here’s today’s press release:  CINCINNATI, August 22, 2012—In a major victory for student rights, a federal district court issued a final ruling today prohibiting the University of Cincinnati (UC) from reinstating its tiny “free speech zone.” In today’s order, United States District Judge Timothy S. Black issued a permanent injunction against UC’s unconstitutional system of speech restriction.  The court’s decision comes hard on the heels of yesterday’s startling resignation of UC President Gregory H. Williams, who reportedly did not provide any explanation for his sudden decision to quit a mere week before students return to campus. “Limiting student expression to […]

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    • Federal Court Delivers Final Blow to U. of Cincinnati ‘Free Speech Zone’

      August 22, 2012

      CINCINNATI, August 22, 2012—In a major victory for student rights, a federal district court issued a final ruling today prohibiting the University of Cincinnati (UC) from reinstating its tiny “free speech zone.” In today’s order, United States District Judge Timothy S. Black issued a permanent injunction against UC’s unconstitutional system of speech restriction. The court’s decision comes hard on the heels of yesterday’s startling resignation of UC President Gregory H. Williams, who reportedly did not provide any explanation for his sudden decision to quit a mere week before students return to campus. “Limiting student expression to just 0.1% of campus […]

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    • Will in ‘Huffington Post’: Free Speech 1, Free Speech Zone 0

      June 20, 2012

      Last week, a federal court in Ohio issued a preliminary injunction prohibiting the University of Cincinnati (UC) from enforcing its unconstitutional policy of limiting expressive activity on campus to a free speech zone roughly the size of a postage stamp. I joke, but the free speech zone was tiny, covering only 0.1% of the university campus. Indeed, UC’s free speech zone earned the university a spot atop FIRE’s 2012 list of the 12 worst colleges for free speech in the nation.  FIRE Director of Legal and Public Advocacy Will Creeley has written an article for The Huffington Post about this important […]

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    • Victory for Student Rights: Federal Court Strikes Down University of Cincinnati’s Tiny Free Speech Zone

      June 15, 2012

      by William Creeley The Huffington Post   One thing’s for sure: The University of Cincinnati can’t say it never saw this week’s big courtroom win for student speech rights coming. That’s because back in March, my organization, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, published a list of the 12 worst colleges for free speech in the nation here at The Huffington Post – and UC was right at the top of our list. How did UC earn this dubious distinction? Well, prior to this week, UC maintained an incredibly tiny free-speech zone, limiting student “demonstrations, pickets, and rallies” to a space covering a miniscule […]

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    • Three Key Points to UC Court Victory

      June 14, 2012

      Well, the University of Cincinnati can’t say it didn’t see this week’s big court victory for student speech coming. After all, FIRE has been warning UC for years now about the constitutional deficiencies in the free speech zone policy enjoined by a federal district court in Tuesday’s order. Had UC taken FIRE’s advice back in 2007, it could have saved itself the embarrassment of fighting against (and losing to) the First Amendment in court—and saved Ohio taxpayers money, too. But UC wanted to do things the hard way. General Counsel Mitchell McCrate told FIRE in 2008 that “[w]e have no […]

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    • Federal Court: University of Cincinnati Free Speech Zone Violates First Amendment, ‘Cannot Stand’

      June 12, 2012

      CINCINNATI, June 12, 2012—In a ringing victory for student rights, a federal district court declared today that the University of Cincinnati’s (UC’s) tiny “free speech zone” violates the First Amendment. In his order enjoining enforcement of the challenged free speech zone policy, United States District Judge Timothy S. Black held that UC’s free speech zone “violates the First Amendment and cannot stand.” The suit was filed by Ohio’s 1851 Center for Constitutional Law in cooperation with the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE). “Once again, a federal court has been forced to remind a public university of its constitutional obligation to […]

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    • Greg’s Appearance on ‘Stossel’ Now Online

      April 24, 2012

      FIRE President Greg Lukianoff’s appearance on Stossel last week is now available online. The episode highlights two current FIRE cases: Auburn University’s selective banning of student window hangings and the University of Cincinnati’s threats to arrest students who wanted to gather signatures outside of the school’s free speech zone. Greg also told the Florida State University audience that FSU’s speech codes are unconstitutional. Check out the video below!   Watch the latest video at <a href="http://video.foxbusiness.com" mce_href="http://video.foxbusiness.com">video.foxbusiness.com</a>

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    • Watch FIRE on ‘Stossel’ This Week

      April 19, 2012

      FIRE President Greg Lukianoff appears on ‘Stossel’ this week to discuss free speech on campus. The show also features students from FIRE’s cases at Auburn University, which selectively ordered a student’s Ron Paul banner to be taken down despite leaving many others on display, and the University of Cincinnati, which threatened to arrest students if they tried to gather petition signatures outside the university’s tiny “free speech zone.” The episode first airs Thursday evening at 9 pm Eastern on Fox Business Network. Tune in!

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    • University of Cincinnati Needs to Learn to Read

      March 29, 2012

      Citybeat.com, a Cincinnati news and opinion website, features a story on FIRE’s list of the 12 Worst Colleges for Free Speech, the University of Cincinnati’s placement on that list, and the ongoing federal civil rights lawsuit filed last month against UC for its free speech policies and practices.  Unfortunately, when it comes to their problems with free speech, UC is still in a state of denial. As my colleague Will Creeley pointed out a few weeks ago, the spin coming out of UC is really something to behold. Alas, it continues. Everyone here at FIRE put palm to face when […]

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    • ‘News Record’ on Free Speech Zone Lawsuit at University of Cincinnati

      March 8, 2012

      The News Record at the University of Cincinnati (UC) reports on the latest in the federal civil rights lawsuit involving the university’s “free speech zone.” UC’s chapter of Young Americans for Liberty (UC YAL) filed suit after the group was told that UC would call the campus cops if they were seen “walk[ing] around campus” gathering signatures rather than staying in UC’s minuscule free speech zone—a pathetic 0.1% of the university’s 137-acre West Campus. Will wrote about the case yesterday, explaining that UC has no leg to stand on in pretending that it is “accommodating” its students, since UC actually […]

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    • With Federal Lawsuit Filed, University of Cincinnati Allows Student Group Temporary Reprieve From Free Speech Zone — But Continues to Defend Illiberal Policy

      March 7, 2012

      Apparently, it takes nothing short of a federal civil rights lawsuit before the University of Cincinnati will allow a student group to gather signatures outside the confines of its restrictive “free speech zone.”  That’s the depressing lesson learned by UC’s chapter of Young Americans for Liberty (UC YAL), whose members may now collect signatures in support of a state ballot amendment following a temporary agreement reached by the group’s attorneys and the university. Under the terms of the “standstill agreement,” UC YAL members may now gather signatures and talk to their fellow students outside of the university’s free speech zone—a […]

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    • Will IU’s ‘Free Speech Zone’ Fall Next? A Former FIRE Intern Investigates

      March 1, 2012

      In the Indiana Daily Student this week, former FIRE intern and senior Nico Perrino writes about free speech issues at his school, Indiana University-Bloomington (IU). His piece discusses the recent lawsuit filed by students at the University of Cincinnati challenging that campus’s restrictive “Free Speech Zone.” As Nico points out, IU has similar restrictions on how students can use public spaces on campus, limiting “free speech” to just two areas on campus and spontaneous events to just one. He writes compellingly about the confusion sown by contradictory and unevenly enforced policies: While it might seem like IU does not always […]

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    • Robert in ‘Daily Caller’: U of Cincinnati Has It Coming with Student Lawsuit Challenging Restrictive Policy

      February 24, 2012

      Today in The Daily Caller, FIRE Senior Vice President Robert Shibley examines the student lawsuit that FIRE has helped to coordinate at the University of Cincinnati, challenging the university’s extremely restrictive “free speech zone” policy. While FIRE has over the years encountered its share of unconstitutional free speech zones on college campuses, the University of Cincinnati’s policy, as Robert writes, is uniquely burdensome of protected student speech. Robert’s piece examines the impact of such a restriction on basic expressive activity: A quick look at the history of demonstrations and protests in the United States reveals why restrictive policies like the […]

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    • University of Cincinnati Sued Over Free Speech Zone

      February 23, 2012

      CINCINNATI, February 23, 2012—A student group filed suit yesterday against the University of Cincinnati in federal district court, alleging that the university’s tiny “free speech zone” violates the First Amendment. The University of Cincinnati chapter of Young Americans for Liberty (YAL) and its president, student Christopher Morbitzer, sought permission to gather signatures and talk to students across campus in support of a statewide “right to work” ballot initiative, but the request was denied. Morbitzer was told that if any YAL members were seen “walk[ing] around campus” gathering signatures, campus security would be alerted. Morbitzer and YAL seek a temporary restraining […]

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    • University of Cincinnati Sued Over Free Speech Zone

      February 23, 2012

      Here is today’s press release: CINCINNATI, February 23, 2012—A student group filed suit yesterday against the University of Cincinnati in federal district court, alleging that the university’s tiny “free speech zone” violates the First Amendment. The University of Cincinnati chapter of Young Americans for Liberty (YAL) and its president, student Christopher Morbitzer, sought permission to gather signatures and talk to students across campus in support of a statewide “right to work” ballot initiative, but the request was denied. Morbitzer was told that if any YAL members were seen “walk[ing] around campus” gathering signatures, campus security would be alerted.  Morbitzer and […]

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