On April 13, 2016, students at the University of Delaware (UD) were confronted by a UD police officer and told they must self-censor a “free speech ball”—a large, plastic beach ball on which they encouraged other students to write their thoughts. Students Jason Stewart and Aaron Cooper, members of the UD chapter of Young Americans for Liberty, were manning the table and inviting passing students to write on the free speech ball when a uniformed UD Department of Public Safety officer approached them. The officer pointed out a drawing of a penis and the word “penis” on the ball and indicated to Stewart and Cooper that the drawing and word were in possible violation of UD’s sexual misconduct policy. In a later exchange captured on video, the officer cited broad categories of speech that he said the YAL members must monitor when students added messages to the ball, including “offensive,” “harassing,” or “derogatory” speech. FIRE wrote to UD urging the university to ensure its police officers respect the First Amendment rights of its students and understand that speech cannot be suppressed merely because others find it offensive or distasteful. FIRE further encouraged UD to reform policies that threaten student expression.
FIRE Case Files