The controversy began in April when CSU students complained that there were three unconstitutional policies on campus: the peaceful assembly policy, the advertising policy and the hate incidents policy. All three of these policies had the effect of being a speech code—a rule or regulation that impedes the free exchange of ideas and runs afoul of the First Amendment.
Prior to FIRE’s intervention, CSU, a public university, permitted activities such as rallies to take place only at the Lory Student Center Plaza and required students to reserve the space 14 days prior to the event.
FIRE’s director of legal and public advocacy, Samantha Harris, explained, “The only possible defense of Colorado State’s assembly policy would be that it is a ‘reasonable time, place and manner’ restriction. … There is nothing ‘reasonable,’ however, about transforming the vast majority of the university’s property—indeed, public property—into a ‘censorship area,’ and in maintaining a system of onerous requirements by which students must abide in order to exercise their fundamental rights.”
In that same letter, FIRE targeted both the advertising policy and the hate incidents policy. Under the prior advertising policy, CSU barred any “offensive language” and “references to alcoholic beverages or other drugs.” Last year, the policy was used to prohibit CSU libertarians from making a political statement on the legalization of marijuana because a flyer had a picture of a marijuana leaf.
The hate incidents policy—a policy with a sole purpose of prohibiting “expressions of hostility”—was also problematic. “A public university such as CSU cannot lawfully ban ‘expressions of hostility.’ Under even the most rudimentary definition of freedom, people are allowed to be hostile. Only when those expressions cross the line into constitutionally unprotected harassment … may a public university like Colorado State prohibit them,” explained Harris.
After receiving Harris’ letter, CSU rethought its positions and amended the policies so that they would be in conformance with prevailing First Amendment jurisprudence. In response to its once narrow peaceful assembly policy, CSU revised the policy to make it clear that free speech activities are welcomed throughout the campus.
The advertising policy was changed to ban “obscene language” and to prohibit advertising from promoting illegal activity. And finally the once overbroad hate incidents policy that punished hostility has now been significantly narrowed to punish carefully defined harassment.
“The events at Colorado State should inspire students everywhere to stand up for their free speech rights,” Lukianoff said.
“CSU did the right thing: it listened to students, took note of the First Amendment and revised its policies accordingly,” stated Seth Anthony, a CSU graduate student and leader of the student activists. “It just goes to show how students really can have an impact on campus policy, especially with the support of an organization like FIRE.”
Schools: Colorado State University