Lawrence University: Students for Free Thought Denied Recognition

Category: Cases, Free Speech
Schools: Lawrence University

On May 17, 2017, a newly-forming student organization at Lawrence University, Students for Free Thought, hosted an on-campus screening and discussion of the 2015 documentary film “Can We Take a Joke?” Prior to the event, a vice president of the university sent a campus-wide email addressing the controversy surrounding the film’s screening. The documentary was paused halfway through on the night of the screening as a heated dispute broke out, and one student was asked to leave. Students for Free Thought had, at the time of the screening, been an organization recognized on a trial basis by the Lawrence University Community Council (LUCC), the university’s student government. In the wake of the screening, LUCC denied official recognition to Students for Free Thought, citing the group’s anonymous membership, similarity to existing groups, broad membership criteria, and mission statement. LUCC also cited the group’s purported non-compliance with LUCC’s recommendations that the group collaborate with other groups on campus, find “new” and “inclusive” members for the organization, and obtain a “neutral moderator” for the viewing of the documentary.