Victory for Free Speech at Colorado State

By July 19, 2007

FIRE’s press release today celebrates victory for freedom of speech at Colorado State University, where administrators have revised three formerly unconstitutional speech codes. Changes were made after CSU students, with help from FIRE, successfully pressured the university administration to rewrite its policies within constitutional strictures. As the press release describes,

In February, concerned CSU students requested help from FIRE in contesting several unconstitutional policies that restricted students’ expression and assembly on campus. On March 12, FIRE wrote a letter to CSU President Larry E. Penley urging him to change three unconstitutional policies: the Peaceful Assembly at CSU policy and the residence hall Advertising and Hate Incidents policies. On March 28, CSU General Counsel Loretta Martinez informed FIRE that although the Peaceful Assembly policy designates Lory Student Center Plaza as the primary public forum space, CSU in fact maintains “numerous locations where students may and have in the past spoken and protested freely.” In response to the university’s affirmation of the right to free assembly, members of the CSU Campus Libertarians held a rally in celebration of free speech outside of the designated “primary ‘Public Forum’ space.”

CSU has now revised its other unconstitutional speech codes as well, and made additional changes to the Peaceful Assembly policy to clarify that free speech is welcome around the campus. The Advertising policy, which used to prohibit the use of any “offensive language” and “references to alcoholic beverages or other drugs,” now prohibits only “obscene language” and provides that advertisements may not “promote illegal behavior.” This is an important distinction, since the old policy was used last year to prohibit the Campus Libertarians from posting fliers supporting a marijuana legalization initiative simply because the posters contained an image of a marijuana leaf. The Hate Incidents policy, which used to prohibit simple “expressions of hostility” in CSU residence halls, now prohibits only true harassment and abuse.

“CSU did the right thing: it listened to students, took note of the First Amendment, and revised its policies accordingly,” graduate student Seth Anthony—who led the student campaign for free speech—said. “It just goes to show how students really can have an impact on campus policy, especially with the support of an organization like FIRE.&rdquo

This victory demonstrates the importance of students of courage and conviction who choose to advocate on behalf of their First Amendment rights. It is largely in response to students such as these that FIRE created the Campus Freedom Network, a loose affiliation of students and faculty in higher education concerned about the state of constitutional freedoms on their campuses. If you are a student or faculty member interested in the Campus Freedom Network, please inquire at cfn@thefire.org. As FIRE President Greg Lukianoff said, “The events at Colorado State should inspire students everywhere to stand up for their free speech rights. Students really can make a tremendous difference for liberty on campus, and FIRE is here to help them.”

Schools: Colorado State University