University of Alabama Protesters Acquitted of Disorderly Conduct Charge

By May 5, 2008

In March, FIRE reported that four protesters, two of whom were students, were arrested for disorderly conduct after a protest held by Students for a Democratic Society at the University of Alabama (UA) was deemed disruptive by the university.

The protest was intended to simulate disturbances the protesters attribute to the United States armed forces in Iraq. Dressed in military garb, the four protesters ran shouting into a UA building. Once inside, the "soldiers" staged a mock abduction of three other protesters dressed in headscarves, hustling them out the door. Then, outside, one of the demonstrators announced a speech to take place that evening on campus by a veteran of the Iraq War.

Today, the Tuscaloosa News reports that the four demonstrators have been acquitted of the disorderly conduct charge.

Tuscaloosa County District Court Judge issued the ruling Friday for the four members of the Students for a Democratic Society, including two UA students, after prosecutors finished with their witnesses, said Jenae Strainer, a UA student and SDS member called as a witness for defense attorneys.

"We cannot allow the disorderly conduct statute to be read so broadly as to make it a crime to engage in free speech," said Allison Neal, a staff attorney with the ACLU of Alabama, which represented the protesters. "This is especially true at a time when freedom of expression is so critical to our democracy."

The two UA students arrested must still face campus judiciary hearings, but the court ruling should bode well for them. FIRE will continue to monitor the situation.