ST. GEORGE, Utah, May 5, 2015—Dixie State University has announced that it will suspend the unconstitutional speech codes that three students challenged in a First Amendment lawsuit filed in March. The lawsuit, which is supported by the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), targeted Dixie State’s unconstitutional flyer approval process, posting policies, “free speech zone,” and club event policies—all of which are now suspended.
In addition to suspending the speech codes, Dixie State President Richard B. Williams announced in an email yesterday to the campus community that the university will permanently revise its policies. In his email, President Williams stated that Dixie State is a place “where even unpopular answers, seemingly absurd ideas, and unconventional thought are not only permitted, but even encouraged.”
FIRE will continue to monitor developments at Dixie State closely to ensure that the university’s apparent recognition of First Amendment principles translates into meaningful policy reform.
“Students shouldn’t need to go to a free speech zone or ask permission from administrators to exercise their free speech rights on a public university campus,” said FIRE President and CEO Greg Lukianoff. “Universities like Dixie State are increasingly recognizing that speech codes are losers in both the court of law and the court of public opinion, and they are declining to defend them when challenged.”
On March 4, 2015, students William Jergins, Joey Gillespie, and Forrest Gee filed a lawsuit in federal court against Dixie State for restricting their free speech rights when the school refused to approve signs promoting their Young Americans for Liberty (YAL) student group.
Dixie State administrators rejected the flyers—which criticized President George W. Bush, President Barack Obama, and Cuban revolutionary Che Guevara—because they “disparage[d]” and “mock[ed]” individuals, in violation of university policy. On another occasion, a Dixie State administrator decided that the YAL group’s “free speech wall” event would have to take place in the campus free speech zone. Neither the student-plaintiffs nor other administrators knew the free speech zone’s location; it is not specified in any published university policy.
“Students at Dixie State pay a lot of money to learn in an environment that is protective of their First Amendment rights,” said Jergins. “Despite Dixie State’s reluctance to ensure that campus policies fully protect free speech and inquiry, the university’s suspension of its troublesome speech codes is an encouraging first step toward the open learning environment Dixie State students want and deserve.”
Dixie State first caught FIRE’s attention in 2013 when the school refused to recognize social fraternities or clubs that used Greek letters in their names. The administration rebuffed repeated efforts by students and FIRE to resolve that situation and continued ignoring students’ First Amendment rights until Jergins, Gillespie, and Gee filed their lawsuit in March.
FIRE is a nonprofit educational foundation that unites civil rights and civil liberties leaders, scholars, journalists, and public intellectuals from across the political and ideological spectrum on behalf of individual rights, freedom of expression, academic freedom, due process, and rights of conscience at our nation’s colleges and universities. FIRE’s efforts to preserve liberty on campuses across America can be viewed at thefire.org.
Nico Perrino, Associate Director of Communications, FIRE: 215-717-3473; firstname.lastname@example.org