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Speech Code of the Month: University of Texas at San Antonio

By March 6, 2013

FIRE announces its Speech Code of the Month for March 2013: the University of Texas at San Antonio.

According to the university’s Handbook of Operating Procedures (PDF),

Anonymous publications are prohibited, and any individual or organization publishing or aiding in publishing, or circulating or aiding in circulating, any anonymous publication will be subject to disciplinary action.

However, the Supreme Court of the United States has repeatedly held that bans on anonymous publications violate the First Amendment, by which the University of Texas at San Antonio—a public university—is legally and morally bound. In Talley v. California, 362 U.S. 60, 64 (1960), the Court invalidated a Los Angeles municipal ordinance prohibiting the distribution of anonymous handbills. As the Court wrote:

Anonymous pamphlets, leaflets, brochures and even books have played an important role in the progress of mankind. Persecuted groups and sects from time to time throughout history have been able to criticize oppressive practices and laws either anonymously or not at all.

And in McIntyre v. Ohio Elections Commission, 514 U.S. 334, 342 (1995), the Court struck down a law prohibiting anonymous publications designed to influence voters in an election, explicitly stating that “an author’s decision to remain anonymous, like other decisions concerning omissions or additions to the content of a publication, is an aspect of the freedom of speech protected by the First Amendment.” (Emphasis added.) “Anonymity,” the Court wrote, “is a shield from the tyranny of the majority.”

A look through FIRE’s case archives demonstrates that students often have good reason to seek anonymity, particularly when criticizing university administrations. For example, until FIRE intervened, Binghamton University was set to expel a social work student for posters criticizing the Department of Social Work for what he perceived as social injustice. At Catawba Valley Community College, a student was banned from campus after he complained on Facebook about his school’s aggressive marketing of a debit card company to its students. (The college later dropped the punishment under pressure from FIRE.)

The University of Texas at San Antonio’s ban on anonymous publications is a clear violation of its students’ First Amendment rights and must be repealed.

For this reason, the University of Texas at San Antonio is our March 2013 Speech Code of the Month. If you believe that your college’s or university’s policy should be a Speech Code of the Month, please email speechcodes@thefire.org with a link to the policy and a brief description of why you think attention should be drawn to this code. If you are a current college student or faculty member interested in free speech, consider joining FIRE’s Campus Freedom Network, an organization of college faculty members and students dedicated to advancing individual liberties on their campuses. You also can add FIRE’s Speech Code of the Month Widget to your blog or website and help shed some much-needed sunlight on these repressive policies.

Schools: University of Texas at San Antonio