Rights in the News: FIRE’s Campaigns in Texas, California, and Georgia Get Results

By November 6, 2009

FIRE has been working hard to keep Torch readers up to date on the progress of our many cases this week. First and foremost is our case at Tarrant County College (TCC) in Texas, where a federal district court issued a temporary restraining order today prohibiting TCC from censoring an “empty holster” protest to be held next week. Finally, after being prevented from doing so for two years in a row, the TCC members of Students for Concealed Carry on Campus will be able to stage their week-long peaceful protest. News of this victory for free speech comes just a day after FIRE announced the filing of a lawsuit aimed at ridding TCC of its unconstitutional free speech zone for good.

The Associated Press has covered the suit, filed by Fort Worth attorney Karin Cagle in cooperation with the ACLU of Texas and FIRE, and news of the lawsuit has also appeared in the Texas Tribune and the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. The granting of the temporary restraining order, as we’ve explained, does not bode well for TCC’s unconstitutional free speech zone. And now with some of Texas’ major dailies clued in to the injustice (both the Houston Chronicle and Austin American Statesman carried the AP story), TCC risks ending up with as little public support as legal support for its violations of students’ constitutional rights.

At Southwestern College (SWC) in California, meanwhile, students and faculty are outraged by the punishment of three SWC professors for their part in a recent peaceful protest against school budget cuts. FIRE’s letter to SWC has helped intensify the pressure on the school and has been reported by San Diego’s 10News. Greg has also written on our letter in his blog on The Huffington Post. Today FIRE reported that the three suspended professors have now returned after being banned from the campus for the past two weeks. Nonetheless, the matter is far from resolved, and FIRE will keep Torch readers updated until it is. In the meantime, do also keep up with the blog Save our Southwestern College as well as The Writer’s Washroom, which has an excellent on-the-ground account of the protest, complete with photographs taken at the scene.

Finally, the case of Professor Thomas Thibeault at East Georgia College (EGC) once again made headlines, most notably in The Chronicle of Higher Education and InsideHigherEd.com, after the charge of harassment against him was dropped due to lack of evidence, even though the charge was used three months ago to summarily dismiss Thibeault from EGC and have him escorted from the campus by police. Thibeault has been reinstated, but a letter of reprimand is being placed in his file and he has been pressured to sign a ludicrously vague document stating that he had in the past “bothered some people” with his speech and behavior.

This, too, is far from over.

Schools: Southwestern College Tarrant County College Cases: Southwestern College: Professors Banned from Campus after Students Stray Beyond ‘Free Speech Patio’ Tarrant County College Bans Symbolic ‘Empty Holster’ Protest