University of South Carolina — Stand Up For Speech Lawsuit

Category: Free Speech
Schools: University of South Carolina Columbia

This lawsuit is a part of FIRE’s Stand Up For Speech Litigation Project.

On November 23, 2015, the University of South Carolina’s (USC’s) College Libertarians and Young Americans for Liberty chapters held an outdoor event focusing on free speech, displaying posters illustrating incidents of censorship at colleges and universities throughout the country. After the event, USC received three student complaints that some of the posters displayed were “offensive” and “triggering.” In response to the complaints, USC served Ross Abbott, one of the student organizers and president of USC’s College Libertarians, with a “Notice of Charge” letter. The university investigated Abbott and threatened him with punishment up to and including expulsion for “discrimination.”

The investigation against Abbott was dropped after Abbott met with an administrator from USC’s Office of Equal Opportunity Programs and answered for the students’ constitutionally protected speech.

Abbott, the College Libertarians, and the campus YAL chapter filed a lawsuit against USC because they did not want to see their peers punished for protected speech in the future.

The lawsuit challenges a number of USC’s policies, including its free speech zone policy and USC’s vague and overbroad harassment policy.

B-ROLL FOOTAGE OF PLAINTIFFS AND USC

  • Student groups to appeal after court dismisses lawsuit against University of South Carolina administrators

    July 13, 2017

    COLUMBIA, S.C., July 13, 2017 — Can the University of South Carolina’s equal opportunity office investigate students for a university-approved free speech event because other students claim they find the event “offensive” and “triggering?” The answer, which should alarm any American who cares about free speech on campus, seems to be “yes” — at least for now. On Tuesday, a federal district court dismissed a First Amendment lawsuit filed against USC by student Ross Abbott and the campus chapters of Young Americans for Liberty and College Libertarians, who found themselves the target of an investigation by university administrators for hosting […]

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  • FIRE Announces America’s 10 Worst Colleges for Free Speech: 2017

    February 22, 2017

    PHILADELPHIA, Feb. 22, 2017—More than 92 percent of American colleges maintain speech codes that either clearly restrict—or could too easily be used to restrict—free speech. Each year, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) takes a closer look at campus censorship to identify America’s 10 worst colleges for free speech. The 2017 list of the 10 worst colleges for free speech—published today with detailed descriptions at The Huffington Post—includes both public and private institutions. Public colleges and universities are bound by the First Amendment. Private colleges on this list are not required by the Constitution to respect student and […]

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  • ‘Stand Up For Speech’ Litigation Update: University of South Carolina

    February 9, 2017

    Last month I had the opportunity to attend an oral argument in our Stand Up For Speech Litigation Project case against the University of South Carolina (USC) with FIRE’s Director of Litigation, Marieke Tuthill Beck-Coon. For those unfamiliar with this case, the plaintiffs are the USC chapters of Young Americans for Liberty and College Libertarians, and Ross Abbott, a student organizer and the former president of USC’s College Libertarians. The case began after the plaintiffs held an outdoor free speech event in November 2015, which was designed to draw attention to the threats to free speech on campus. At the […]

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  • FIRE’s Stand Up For Speech Litigation Project Turns Two

    July 1, 2016

    FIRE launched one of its most ambitious projects two years ago today when it coordinated the filing of four free speech lawsuits against four public colleges and universities in one day. With the Stand Up For Speech Litigation Project (SUFS), FIRE has been able to challenge speech codes in courts nationwide, changing the incentive structure for universities by imposing a real cost for violating the First Amendment. Since last July 1, SUFS has sponsored two more lawsuits—one against the University of South Carolina, where students were investigated for holding an event about free speech, and one against Louisiana State University for […]

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  • A Walk Down (Bad) Memory Lane: Revisiting FIRE Cases That University of South Carolina Students Got in Trouble for Simply Talking About

    March 8, 2016

    In FIRE’s most recent Stand Up For Speech Litigation Project lawsuit, students hosting a free speech event at the University of South Carolina (USC) made posters using examples of campus censorship pulled straight from FIRE’s case archives. They hoped to raise free speech consciousness on campus and found themselves the subject of a disciplinary investigation for doing so. Since FIRE’s mission is to address campus censorship whenever it appears (even if we’ve addressed it before!), we now revisit the free speech cases USC investigated students for talking about at a free speech event. October 2007: Brandeis Finds Professor Guilty of […]

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  • No Limits: University of South Carolina Students Fight for Free Speech (VIDEO)

    February 26, 2016

    The University of South Carolina’s (USC’s) marketing materials claim “No Limits” on the student experience—except, it seems, when it comes to constitutional rights. Two student groups learned this unfortunate lesson in November 2015 when they tried to host an educational outdoor event about free speech rights on college campuses. They researched examples of speech that was unconstitutionally censored by colleges across the country and used the examples they found to create visual case studies for discussion with passersby on campus. “We really tried to show the message that, hey, once you give universities the power to decide what’s appropriate and […]

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  • FIRE Q&A: Stand Up For Speech Litigation Project Plaintiff Ross Abbott

    February 25, 2016

    On Tuesday, FIRE announced its latest lawsuit, this one against the University of South Carolina (USC), as part of its undefeated Stand Up For Speech Litigation Project. One of the suit’s plaintiffs, Ross Abbott, is a USC senior majoring in business management and economics and minoring in psychology and pre-law; he is also president of the USC’s College Libertarians. He recently talked to FIRE about the importance of free speech on campus, how he tried to get USC to see it his way, and why he’s made the difficult decision to take his school to court. Some questions and answers […]

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  • Students Interrogated for Organizing Free Speech Event File First Amendment Lawsuit Against University of South Carolina

    February 23, 2016

    COLUMBIA, S.C., February 23, 2016—The University of South Carolina’s (USC’s) marketing materials claim “No Limits” on the student experience—except, it seems, when it comes to constitutional rights. That’s why today, student Ross Abbott and the campus chapters of Young Americans for Liberty (YAL) and College Libertarians filed a First Amendment lawsuit against USC with the help of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE). Last fall, the student groups held an outdoor event displaying posters with examples of expression that had been censored on campuses across the country. Three other students filed formal complaints, claiming that some of the […]

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