Federal Judge Prohibits SFSU from Enforcing Speech Codes

November 2, 2007

This has been a truly fantastic week for freedom on campus. Not only did the University of Delaware end its program of mandatory thought reform, but on Wednesday, a federal judge in California enjoined the enforcement of several unconstitutional speech codes at San Francisco State University (SFSU). The lawsuit—part of FIRE’s Speech Codes Litigation Project—was filed by the SFSU College Republicans this past July. Torch readers may recall that the SFSU College Republicans were dragged through a prolonged investigation and hearing simply for engaging in constitutionally protected expression. They brought suit both to challenge the university’s blatant violation of their rights and to challenge the numerous unconstitutional speech codes on the books at SFSU. Eugene Volokh reports on the hearing:

U.S. Magistrate Judge Wayne Brazil issued a temporary injunction against the CSU system Wednesday, in which he struck down a portion of the CSU conduct code that mandates students “be civil to one another.” That language would likely not survive First Amendment scrutiny at trial, the magistrate found.

“It’s fine to say, ‘We hope you’re civil to each other,’” Brazil said from the bench. “It’s not fine to say, ‘We’ll punish you if you’re not.’”

The magistrate also told the CSU system it can only discipline students for “intimidation” or “harassment” when the health or safety of another person is threatened. In addition, Brazil struck down language in the San Francisco State University student handbook that holds out the possibility of corrective action against student groups if their members behave in opposition to SFSU goals and principles.

The motion was argued by David Hacker of the Alliance Defense Fund, which is represented the College Republicans. Judge Brazil’s decision is a thrilling development for free speech on campus; look for much more information about it from FIRE in the days to come.

Schools:  San Francisco State University