FIRE Letter to University of Central Florida President John Hitt, January 24, 2007

By January 24, 2007

January 24, 2007

President John C. Hitt
University of Central Florida
Office of the President
Millican Hall
Orlando, Florida 32816

Sent via U.S. Mail and Facsimile (407-823-2264)

Dear President Hitt:

FIRE is disappointed to write to the University of Central Florida (UCF) once again to express our concern about the state of liberty on your campus. As you know, FIRE wrote to you on November 1, 2006 to protest UCF’s unconstitutional “free speech zone” policy that was twice used to shut down protests by Students for a Democratic Society (SDS). We write today because UCF has not yet begun to revise its speech zone policy and because we have learned of the existence of another policy quarantining free speech to an area even smaller than that designated by the Golden Rule.

SDS members Patrick DeCarlo and Eric Eingold report to FIRE that on January 10, they held a “Free Store” in the brick mall area between the John T. Washington Center and the Student Union—an area well within the Golden Rule’s designated “Free Assembly Area.” SDS regularly holds the “Free Store” to protest what they see as the consumerism of “Union Market Day,” an event occurring every Wednesday in front of the Student Union in which vendors set up tables to sell goods to students. DeCarlo and Eingold report that on January 10, campus police disbanded the SDS event and cited not the Golden Rule’s “Free Assembly Areas” policy, but the Student Union’s “Free Assembly Areas” policy.

In contradiction to the Golden Rule policy (Section 16.F.1.b), which describes the free speech zone near the Student Union as “the brick mall area between the John T. Washington Center and the Student Union,” the Student Union’s “Free Assembly Areas” policy states that:

The free speech area nearest to the Student Union is situated as follows: the Brick Mall area between the John T. Washington Center and the Student Union as bounded on the West side by the Student Union loading dock and East by the colored sidewalk crossing the Brick Mall near the entrance to the Union.

The maintenance and enforcement of inconsistent rules governing free assembly on campus make UCF’s policies not only unconstitutional—as FIRE’s previous letter detailed—but vague, contradictory, and confusing. Not only are UCF students banned from assembling and engaging in speech anywhere on the UCF campus, but they are apparently left to question which areas within the free speech zones are open to them.

The double policies governing free speech on campus highlight the absurdity of UCF’s practice of restricting free speech only to certain designated areas of campus. How many more obscure policies exist that limit student assembly? If university administrators, campus police, and university policymakers cannot agree on which areas of campus are open to student expression, then how can students be expected to follow the university’s rules?

FIRE’s November 1 letter detailed relevant case law declaring restrictive “free speech zones” unconstitutional on public campuses. In Roberts v. Haragan, 346 F. Supp. 2d 853 (N.D. Tex. 2004), for example, a federal court held that “to the extent [that a] campus has park areas, sidewalks, streets, or other similar common areas, these areas are public forums, at least for the University’s students, irrespective of whether the University has so designated them or not.”

FIRE has successfully challenged free speech zones at universities across the nation, including at West Virginia University, Seminole Community College, Citrus College, the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, the University of Nevada at Reno, and Texas Tech University. In all of these cases, the institutions challenged have either decided to open up the public areas of their campuses to expressive activities or have been forced by a court to do so.

FIRE sincerely hopes the University of Central Florida will consider the legal precedent along with the moral ramifications of infringing upon the fundamental rights of UCF students engaged in a peaceful protest. FIRE will continue to oppose UCF’s unconstitutional and contradictory “free speech zone” policies until UCF opens its campus to the free speech and assembly of its students.

We request a response on this matter by February 7, 2007.

Sincerely,

Samantha Harris
Director of Legal and Public Advocacy

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Schools: University of Central Florida Cases: University of Central Florida: Speech Quarantined to ‘Free Assembly Areas’