Ga. University Sued Over ‘Speech Zones’ That Limit Protests to One Percent of Campus

May 3, 2014

By Kellan Howell at The Washington Times

A southern university is enforcing new rules that restrict students’ free speech rights to an area that accounts for one percent of the campus.

The University of Georgia (UGA) has designated two “speech zones” in two campus plazas, where students can freely protest without prior approval, any other demonstration must be approved by the administration 48 hours in advance, Campus Reform reported.

The Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) is suing the university on behalf of the school’s Young Americans for Liberty (YAL) chapter, a student group that advocated libertarian policies. The lawsuit was filed yesterday in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Georgia.

“Public universities are supposed to be the marketplace of ideas, and so they should promote and celebrate free speech, not quarantine it to less than one percent of the campus,” Travis Barham, ADF’s litigation staff counsel who is representing the group, said in a press release.

The UGA chapter of YAL wants to be able to continue distributing literature without restriction.

The students have held several demonstrations in the past, including the construction of a clock representing the mounting national debt in 2011. The students told Campus Reform that the university prohibited them from displaying the clock in an area of the school that wasn’t a designated free speech zone.

A UGA spokesperson said that the university was “not aware that it’s an issue here” and said that the university was unaware of any pending lawsuit. He also said that permits for demonstrations are usually offered the same or next day after application.

The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, a non-profit group advocating civil liberties in education, has given UGA a “yellow light” speech code rating. According to the group, this means that the school has “at least one ambiguous policy that too easily encourages administrative abuse and arbitrary application.”

“No rights are more highly regarded at the University of Georgia than the first amendment [sic] guarantees of freedom of speech, freedom of expression, and the right to assemble peaceably,” UGA’s policy states. “The University of Georgia remains firmly committed to affording every member of the University community the opportunity to engage in peaceful and orderly protests and demonstrations which do not disrupt the operation of the University.”

In 2008 ADF won a similar case against Georgia Institute of Technology which had also enforced “speech zones.” A judge ruled that the university did not have the right to deem which speech was intolerant and could not limit speech to a location.

Schools: University of Georgia