ACLU of San Diego Intervenes in Southwestern College ‘Free Speech Patio’ Case, Seconding FIRE’s Concerns

November 11, 2009

David Blair-Loy, Legal Director of the American Civil Liberties Union of San Diego and Imperial Counties, has sent Southwestern College (SWC) President Raj K. Chopra an excellent letter regarding SWC’s failure to uphold its free speech and free assembly responsibilities under the U.S. and California Constitutions and California law. SWC, in Chula Vista, CA, banned three professors from campus and put them on administrative leave after they and a group of students left SWC’s unconstitutional free speech zone and were met by a line of police officers as they approached the courtyard leading to Chopra’s office.

Blair-Loy’s letter re-emphasizes and extends the points FIRE made in our letter of November 3, in which we pointed out SWC’s violations of the First Amendment in both policy and practice. Taking on SWC’s free speech zone, he writes:

In light of the state and federal constitutions, a court would not find it "reasonable" to declare that the entirety of a 156-acre campus, except for one "free speech area" limited to a single patio, is a "non-public forum," especially for faculty, students, and staff.

Moreover, Education Code § 82537 declares, "There is a civic center at each and every community college within the state where the citizens … may meet and discuss, from time to time, as they may desire, any subjects and questions …." This section declares the public policy that community colleges shall be open to public debate and further undermines the categorical designation of the campus [by SWC Policy 5550] as a "non-public forum." Cf. Burbridge v. Sampson, 74 F. Supp. 2d 940, 948 (C.D. Cal. 1999) (citing section 82537 and finding much of community college campus to be public forum).

Above all else, a college campus is a place "where open exchanges of ideas occur." San Leandro Teachers Ass’n, 46 Cal.4th at 844. The college therefore has no legitimate interest in restricting speech or assembly to a single patio. As the California Supreme Court has long made clear, "The government has no valid interest in restricting or prohibiting speech or speech-related activity simply in order to avert the sort of disturbance, argument or unrest which is inevitably generated by the expression of ideas which are controversial and invite dispute." Los Angeles Teachers Union, Local 1021 v. Los Angeles City Bd. of Ed., 71 Cal.2d 551, 558 (1969). [footnote omitted]

There is much else worth reading in this letter, so I encourage you to read it all.

Schools:  Southwestern College

Cases:  Southwestern College: Professors Banned from Campus after Students Stray Beyond ‘Free Speech Patio’