Federal Court Orders San Francisco State University, California State University System Not to Enforce Unconstitutional Speech Codes

November 8, 2007

SAN FRANCISCO, November 8, 2007—In a crucial victory for free speech, a federal judge has ordered San Francisco State University (SFSU) and the California State University System (CSU) to stop enforcing several unconstitutional speech codes. The codes were challenged in a lawsuit filed by attorneys from the Alliance Defense Fund (ADF) in cooperation with the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE).
“This decision is a vital step in the fight against unconstitutional campus speech codes,” FIRE President Greg Lukianoff said. “The court’s decision frees hundreds of thousands of students throughout the CSU System from unlawful restrictions on their expression.”

The lawsuit—brought by the SFSU College Republicans and two of the group’s members—came after the SFSU College Republicans were put on trial by a campus tribunal for stepping on makeshift Hamas and Hezbollah flags as part of an anti-terrorism rally they held in October 2006. Despite having the power to dismiss the charges at any time, SFSU dragged the plaintiffs through a five-month investigation and hearing before ultimately clearing the group of baseless “harassment” charges. The plaintiffs’ lawsuit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, asks the court to hold SFSU accountable for unlawfully mistreating the plaintiffs on the basis of their constitutionally protected expression and to strike down several unconstitutional speech codes at SFSU and in the CSU System.

Last Wednesday, U.S. Magistrate Judge Wayne Brazil—who described himself at the hearing as a “friend of the First Amendment”—issued a preliminary injunction prohibiting SFSU and the CSU System from enforcing several of the policies challenged in the lawsuit: a vague SFSU policy requiring students to act in accordance with SFSU “goals, principles, and policies” and a CSU System-wide policy requiring students “to be civil to one another.” Judge Brazil also limited the CSU System’s ability to enforce a policy prohibiting “intimidation” and “harassment,” holding that the policy could only be applied to conduct that “reasonably is concluded to threaten or endanger the health or safety of any other person.”

ADF attorney David Hacker argued the motion for preliminary injunction before Judge Brazil. “This decision sends a clear message to administrators in California and nationwide that they are not above the Constitution,” Hacker said.

FIRE’s Speech Codes Litigation Project—an initiative working to dismantle unconstitutional speech codes on public university campuses—has won crucial victories at Shippensburg University in Pennsylvania, Texas Tech University, the State University of New York at Brockport, California’s Citrus College, and now at San Francisco State University and the California State University System.

“FIRE’s Speech Codes Litigation Project has ended virtually every code it has challenged,” Lukianoff said. “At public universities, these vague and overbroad speech codes are unconstitutional, period. Courts have held this again and again, yet somehow the scandal of campus speech codes continues. FIRE will keep fighting until unconstitutional speech restrictions in higher education have ended once and for all.”

FIRE is a nonprofit educational foundation that unites civil rights and civil liberties leaders, scholars, journalists, and public intellectuals from across the political and ideological spectrum on behalf of individual rights, due process, freedom of expression, academic freedom, and rights of conscience at our nation’s colleges and universities. FIRE’s efforts to preserve liberty on campuses across America can be viewed at www.thefire.org.

CONTACT:

Greg Lukianoff, President, FIRE: 215-717-3473; greg_lukianoff@thefire.org

Robert A. Corrigan, President, SFSU: 415-338-1381; president@sfsu.edu

Charles B. Reed, Chancellor, The California State University: 562-951-4700; creed@calstate.edu

Schools: San Francisco State University Cases: San Francisco State University: Speech Code Litigation Project