GREELEY, Colo., Feb. 5, 2020 — It has all the ingredients of an ancient Athenian play. A powerful leader forbids a young man from associating with his closest allies. Assembling with his elders is forbidden. His fate: unknown.
The only difference is, this Greek tragedy is playing out in Colorado, circa 2020 A.D.
On Jan. 7, the University of Northern Colorado implemented a blanket ban on a broad swath of Greek activities for the rest of the semester. Now, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education is calling on the university to rescind its restrictions on fraternal activities and make clear that it will not impose unconstitutionally restrictive measures on other student organizations.
UNC administrators banned the seven fraternities in its Interfraternity Council from engaging in recruitment, formals, and other activities for the spring semester. The restriction prohibits a vast array of social events — regardless of how small, brief, or unrelated to university affairs — as well as Greek involvement in intramural sports, activities UNC describes (somewhat nebulously) as “Brotherhoods,” and even out-of-state alumni events.
UNC says it took action against the fraternities because of misconduct allegations.
“The First Amendment bars public universities like UNC from treating its fraternities like second-class student organizations,” said Zach Greenberg, program officer in FIRE’s Individual Rights Defense Program. “The members of UNC’s fraternities have the freedom to associate with their fellow students — a right that UNC may not vacate following allegations of misconduct.”
As FIRE reminded UNC President Andrew Feinstein in a letter sent Tuesday, the First Amendment only allows regulations burdening students’ freedom of association when they are narrowly tailored to achieve a compelling government interest. UNC’s restriction does not survive this test, limiting far more expressive activity than is necessary to achieve the university’s safety interests.
“By restricting these student groups from conducting a wide range of associative activities, UNC has exceeded the lawful scope of its authority under the First Amendment,” FIRE’s letter reads. “We call upon UNC to rescind these restrictions immediately.”
The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization dedicated to defending and sustaining the individual rights of students and faculty members at America’s colleges and universities. These rights include freedom of speech, freedom of association, due process, legal equality, religious liberty, and sanctity of conscience — the essential qualities of liberty.
Daniel Burnett, Assistant Director of Communications, FIRE: 215-717-3473; firstname.lastname@example.org