Georgetown University Law Center: Students Prevented from Campaigning for Democratic Presidential Candidate Due to Ban on Partisan Political Speech

Category: Free Speech
Schools: Georgetown University

During the 2015 fall semester, Georgetown University Law Center’s Office of Student Life (OSL) prevented a group of students supporting the 2016 presidential campaign of Senator Bernie Sanders from tabling either inside or outside the law school with materials showing support for their candidate. OSL pointed to Georgetown Law’s “Student Organization Policy on Partisan Political Activities,” prohibiting all campaign-related activity on campus. The policy cites Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code—which prohibits tax-exempt institutions of higher education from engaging in partisan political activity—as its reasons for imposing restrictions on the political speech of students, faculty, and staff. On February 1, 2016, FIRE wrote to Georgetown Law, arguing that Section 501(c)(3) does not require the school to ban student campaign activities on campus. Instead, the Internal Revenue Service presumes that students and student groups speak for themselves, not their institution. FIRE requested that Georgetown Law revise its policy and allow its students and student groups to support their chosen candidates and engage in political education and debate on campus.

  • Congressional Hearing on Campus Political Activity

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    By Josh Logue at Inside Higher Ed Students and several experts testified in front of Congress Wednesday that many private, nonprofit universities are overly restrictive of campus political speech out of misplaced fear that their tax-exempt status may be in jeopardy. Among those who testified before the House of Representatives Ways and Means oversight subcommittee yesterday were Alex Atkins, a Georgetown University Law Center student who was barred from distributing pro-Bernie Sanders campaign material [1] on campus, and Catherine Sevcenko, director of litigation for the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), which advocates for free speech on campus. Read […]

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    By Susan Svrluga at The Washington Post The Georgetown University Faculty Senate has joined the criticism of Mount St. Mary’s College, as the controversy over an incendiary remark by the president and the college’s subsequent dismissal of two professors continued to percolate on the Maryland campus and beyond. Read more here.

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    By Jacob Gershman at The Wall Street Journal Georgetown University law students are free to support whom ever they want for president. They just can’t be very public about their political preference on campus. …   Read more here.

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    February 2, 2016

    By Robby Soave at Reason Online Georgetown University is wildly confused about its free speech obligations: the law school recently barred students from campaigning for Bernie Sanders on campus, citing misplaced concerns that doing so violates IRS law. … Read more here.

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  • Students at Georgetown Banned from Handing Out Campaign Materials Supporting Bernie Sanders

    February 2, 2016

    By Mary Lou Byrd at The Washington Free Beacon Students at Georgetown University Law Center were prevented from showing their support for Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders and forbidden by the university from handing out campaign materials on campus. … Read more here.

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  • Rights Group Slams University for Ban on Students Campaigning for Bernie

    February 2, 2016

    By Staff at Sputnik International The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) is calling for the Georgetown University Law Center to revise its policy governing partisan political speech after a group of students were prevented from handing out campaign materials. The school (incorrectly, according to FIRE) claims that the school’s tax-exempt status requires campaigning to be stifled. …  Read more here.

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    February 2, 2016

    By Greg Piper at The College Fix It’s never a good sign when lawyers think basic political freedoms are subject to the whims of the IRS. … Read more here.

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  • Georgetown Law’s New Political Activity Policy Still Creating Problems for Campus Speech

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  • Georgetown Law’s New Political Activity Policy: A Good Start, But Far From Finished

    April 1, 2016

    At the start of the school year, when classmates and I decided to promote Bernie Sanders for President at Georgetown University Law Center, we assumed that our biggest challenge would be convincing our peers of the merits of Sanders’s campaign. Instead, our primary obstacle has been convincing Georgetown that we should be permitted to engage in this type of political discourse at all. Over six months ago, our group was denied a reservation for a table on campus to engage in campaign-related outreach. I quickly learned that, with the exception of wearing a campaign pin or placing a sticker on […]

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  • Email Congress About Campus Censorship Today

    March 3, 2016

    Yes, this blog post talks about tax policy. But entertainingly, I promise. But even if you don’t want to read further, please do this: Send your stories of campus censorship to the Committee on Ways and Means of the House of Representatives through the committee’s website. Or email: campus.speech@mail.house.gov. The committee is collecting stories of how free speech is being stifled on college campuses and needs to hear from you, Torch readers. Now, if you want to know the fascinating reason why the committee is engaged in this issue, read on. When I give presentations, I always warn students that […]

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    February 1, 2016

    WASHINGTON, February 1, 2016—As the presidential nomination season officially kicks off today in Iowa, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) is asking one school in the nation’s capital to act quickly to revisit policies that restrict students from engaging in political speech on behalf of their chosen candidates. Today, FIRE wrote to Georgetown University Law Center asking it to revise its policy governing partisan political speech. The school has prevented a group of students supporting Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders from handing out campaign materials on campus, incorrectly claiming that the school’s tax-exempt status requires this limitation. “Every campaign […]

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