In a welcome victory for freedom of expression, California State University, Bakersfield will not enforce a vague policy barring students from posting “politically related” flyers on campus.
As election season draws to a close, Tristan Weiser — an undergraduate student at CSU Bakersfield — sought to draw support for a proposition on tomorrow’s ballot. Although administrators first gave him a stamp of approval to post flyers in support of the proposition on campus, they later refused to give him permission to post the same flyers in other locations, or to post flyers promoting a rally in support of the proposition.
The university agreed to rescind and reconsider the policy after FIRE wrote to the institution’s leadership explaining that the flyering policy — which barred “politically related” flyers unless they were related to an event, and allowed administrators to reject flyers with “language” or any “image” that was “not appropriate” — infringed the First Amendment. As our letter explained, a policy barring “politically related” flyers could encompass a wide range of political expression.
As a non-partisan organization, FIRE takes no position on the proposition Weiser supports, or any other ballot measure. But policies that protect freedom of expression will benefit students of every perspective, whether they favor or oppose a candidate, party, or ballot measure. Allowing students to post flyers for or against candidates, parties, or issues will not be seen by reasonable observers to be an endorsement of those views. Vague policies will likely result in censorship of dissenting or unpopular views, speech subjectively disfavored by administrators, or speech that the institution mistakenly believes might jeopardize its tax-exempt status.