Free Speech Under Quarantine at University of Nevada, Reno

April 26, 2006

RENO, Nev., April 26, 2006—The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) is calling for the repeal of an unlawful and immoral “free speech zone” policy at the University of Nevada, Reno (UNR). This policy quarantines free speech at UNR to four zones covering only a small percentage of the campus and places onerous bureaucratic restrictions on speech even within these zones.

“It is simply unacceptable for a public university to transform the vast majority of its campus into a censorship area,” declared FIRE President Greg Lukianoff. “UNR’s current policy is unconstitutional and must be repealed.”

UNR’s policy restricts the First Amendment to four areas of campus, and requires students to obtain signed approval even for demonstrations within those areas. FIRE and the ACLU of Nevada are joining students in protesting UNR’s unwarranted limits on freedom.

FIRE wrote to UNR Interim President Joe Crowley on March 31, urging him to “spare UNR the embarrassment of fighting against the Bill of Rights” and enact a policy under which “free speech is the norm all over the campus.” FIRE cited its victories against similar speech zones at Texas Tech and other public universities and pointed out that while “reasonable” time, place, and manner restrictions were constitutional (for instance, restrictions on late-night noise), “there is nothing ‘reasonable’ about transforming the vast majority of the university’s property—indeed, public property—into a ‘censorship area.’”

FIRE also explained that the law “does not support the transformation of public institutions of higher education into places where constitutional protections are the exception rather than the rule.” Crowley responded to FIRE on April 17, claiming that UNR was “reviewing and clarifying our understanding of time, place, and manner requirements.”

“UNR must do far more than simply ‘review and clarify’ its policies,” stated Lukianoff. “It must write new ones that comply with the Bill of Rights.”

UNR sophomore James Girnus is a vocal opponent of the public forum policy. “I am ashamed of our policies,” he said in a speech to UNR’s student government. “I’m sure that our founding fathers would also be ashamed of the imaginary lines that UNR has drawn, telling students that once they cross the line their First Amendment rights no longer apply.”

FIRE’s work against so-called free speech zones began over four years at West Virginia University. After a long campaign, WVU finally abandoned its “free speech zones,” but the trend of limiting free speech to small areas persists on many other campuses.

“Our nation’s universities are supposed to serve as the ‘free speech zones’ for our society. It is time that administrators remember that and stop treating free speech like a concept that needs to be feared, hyper-regulated, and restricted.” Lukianoff said.

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 at the University of Nevada, Reno, can be viewed at thefire.org/unr.

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

Gary Peck, Executive Director, ACLU of Nevada: 702-366-1536; aclunv@aclunv.org

Joseph N. Crowley, Interim President, University of Nevada, Reno: 775-784-4806; crowley@unr.edu

Schools: University of Nevada, Reno Cases: University of Nevada at Reno: Unconstitutional Free Speech Zone Policy