This Month in FIRE History: Victory for Free Speech as Third Circuit Strikes Down Temple’s Speech Code

By August 31, 2009

As August comes to a close today, I wanted to again look back through our 10-year history and highlight one of FIRE’s most important victories.

Just last August, as a part of our ongoing fight against speech codes, Temple University’s former harassment code was declared unconstitutional by the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit.

The case began when Sergeant Christian DeJohn, a graduate student at Temple University and member of the Army National Guard, sued Temple University and its officials in federal court. Christian argued that Temple’s policies infringed upon his First Amendment rights by allowing for the possibility of punishment for protected speech.

The United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania declared that Temple’s harassment policy was facially unconstitutional.  Temple, asserting that its overbroad policy was necessary to its educational mission, appealed the judgment  to the Third Circuit.  FIRE filed an amicus curiae (friend-of-the-court) brief in the case, which was joined by the ACLU of Pennsylvania, the Christian Legal Society, Collegefreedom.org, Feminists for Free Expression, the Individual Rights Foundation, Students for Academic Freedom, and the Student Press Law Center, urging the Third Circuit to uphold the lower court’s decision. In a victory for free expression on campus, the Third Circuit did just that.

After the ruling, FIRE sent out warnings to all of the schools FIRE rates as Red Light schools in the Third Circuit, making them aware of the decision. As Will said at the time: "These schools must understand that if these restrictions are challenged in court, they will fail, and that they have both a legal and a moral duty to their students and faculty to dismantle these speech codes."

Unfortunately, the impact of the ruling on Sergeant DeJohn’s academic career has been less decisive. Temple continues to refuse to review his master’s thesis, so despite his completion of all other requirements, he remains unable to graduate. FIRE strongly believes that Temple should end the vindictive treatment of DeJohn and agree to review his thesis, allowing his progress towards his degree to continue at long last.

Schools: Temple University Cases: Temple University: Speech Code Litigation