FIRE Challenges Valdosta State University’s Free Speech Zone in New Video

By on March 3, 2008

VALDOSTA, Ga., March 3, 2008In response to Valdosta State University’s (VSU’s) unconstitutional free speech zone policy, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) released a short film today explaining VSU’s continued disregard for its students’ rights and chronicling FIRE’s recent victory on behalf of a VSU student expelled for engaging in a peaceful protest.

“VSU has more than 11,000 students, yet its policy limits free speech to just one percent of campus. To make matters worse, students may only use the free speech zone for two hours a day, and have to reserve it two full days in advance. We urge you to watch FIRE’s latest video to see for yourself VSU’s anemic commitment to free speech.”

The new video, directed and produced by “Indoctrinate U” director Evan Coyne Maloney and Andrew Marcus, also highlights the plight of VSU student T. Hayden Barnes, who was expelled in May 2007 after using Facebook.com and other methods to peacefully protest the school’s decision to construct two new parking garages on campus. The video includes on-the-scene interviews with Barnes and his attorney, noted First Amendment lawyer Robert Corn-Revere, as well as with Lukianoff.

After VSU expelled Barnes, FIRE wrote repeatedly to the Board of Regents of the University System of Georgia, urging them to reverse VSU’s decision. They finally did so in January 2008, nearly a year after Barnes was first expelled. Barnes also filed a federal lawsuit against VSU in January. The suit alleges constitutional violations and emphasizes VSU President Ronald Zaccari’s irrational insistence that Barnes represented a threat and a “clear and present danger,” despite findings to the contrary by mental health professionals. The lawsuit is ongoing.

FIRE also wrote to VSU in November 2007 to express concern over the university’s “Free Expression Area” policy, which provides VSU’s more than 11,000 students with just one stage on which to exercise their right to free expression, and even there limits free speech to between the hours of “NOON to 1PM and/or 5PM to 6PM.” Despite FIRE’s warnings, VSU continues to maintain the blatantly unconstitutional policy, which has now earned the school the distinction of being named FIRE’s Speech Code of the Month for March 2008.

“As a public university bound by the First Amendment, VSU simply must abandon its unconstitutional free speech zone policy,” Lukianoff said. “Until VSU complies with its constitutional obligations, it will remain on FIRE’s Red Alert list and will be considered a top priority for us in our fight for student rights on campus.”

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 across America can be viewed at thefire.org.

CONTACT:
Greg Lukianoff, President, FIRE: 215-717-3473; greg@thefire.org
Emily C. Guidry, Media Director, FIRE: 215-717-3473; emily@thefire.org
Ronald Zaccari, President, Valdosta State University: 229-333-5952; rzaccari@valdosta.edu
Robert Corn-Revere, Partner, Davis Wright Tremaine LLP: 202-973-4225; bobcornrevere@dwt.com

Schools: Valdosta State University