No Summer Break for Student Rights

By August 24, 2007

While students were away for the summer, enjoying beaches and lazy days, the struggle to protect student rights on campus continued. For those just coming back from summer break, here is a review of some of the major student rights cases that you might have missed.

Seniors Need Not Sue

In a disappointing decision, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in the case of Lane v. Simon that once a student graduates they lack standing to continue a lawsuit. This decision could have dangerous implications, especially for students about to graduate, since it can take years for lawsuits to wind their way through the court system. There still might be hope to see this decision reserved, but the chances of that are slim. The students involved in the case are considering their options and might appeal to the Supreme Court.

This is not the first time courts have used procedural grounds to refuse to hear a recent graduate’s lawsuit. In a case at Occidental College involving gross abuses of power and free speech violations, Jason Antebi sued under provisions of the California State Leonard Law, which extends free speech protections to private university students, only to see his case dismissed by a judge because he had filed the suit shortly after graduating. That judge’s decision was later upheld on appeal and the California Supreme Court refused to consider a petition to review that decision.

Don’t Tread on Me

In July, students who were subjected to harassment charges and months of investigations for stepping on their own replication of a Hammas flag at an anti-terrorism rally filed a lawsuit against San Francisco State University. The student plaintiffs in the suit are seeking monetary damages and an injunction invalidating the unconstitutional speech code at SFSU.

Student Free Speech Rights Up In Smoke

There was another disappointing decision in the case of Morse v. Frederick, which the Supreme Court announced in late June. In this particular case, sometimes also referred to as the “Bong Hits 4 Jesus” case, a fractured majority came to the legal conclusion that it was constitutional for a public high school principal to discipline speech that seemed to advocate illegal drug use. Fortunately, this case only applies to elementary and high school aged students and has, at least not yet, been interpreted to also include college or university students. Although federal courts have usually made a bright line distinction that college and university students posses more free speech rights then their primary or secondary education counterparts, we at FIRE worry that the blurring of this distinction in cases like Hosty v, Carter could mean that this expansive decision could threaten student right in higher education.

Stop the Presses

In a positive development this summer, the Illinois Legislature passed the College Campus Press Act which effectively protects the student press in that state from potential censorship and prior restraint. The legislature passed this law in response to the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals decision in Hosty v. Carter; a case that could allow college administrators increased leeway to censoring the student press. Illinois was the first state in the jurisdiction of the Seventh Circuit to take legislative action to protect students from the ramifications of Hosty.

Victory at Gettysburg

More then 125 years after the civil war battle at Gettysburg, another victory for freedom and liberty has been won there. Just a few days ago, after being the subject of public ridicule for almost a year, Gettysburg College changed an overbroad sexual harassment policy. The old policy failed to distinguish between the most innocuous romantic touching with forcible rape. Prior to removing this policy, Gettysburg was one of the first schools to be named to FIRE’s new Red Alert list.

Schools: Gettysburg College Cases: Gettysburg College: Unjust Sexual Misconduct Policy