FIRE Condemns UCF’s Shrinking Speech Zones

January 25, 2007

second letter to the University of Central Florida (UCF) yesterday regarding the school’s free speech zone policy. FIRE first wrote to UCF on November 1 criticizing the quarantine of free speech activities to only four areas on the entire UCF campus. In today’s letter, FIRE emphasized that “the special function of the university as a whole is to serve as the ultimate ‘free speech area,’” and cautioned that severe restrictions on free expression have no place at a university. The UCF chapter of Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) had appealed to FIRE for help last fall after an SDS protest was forced off campus for taking place outside a designated free speech zone.

FIRE’s second letter criticizes the fact that UCF has refused to abolish their free speech zones. Making matters worse, FIRE has learned of the existence of a conflicting school policy that restricts one of the original free speech zones to an even smaller area, leaving students to wonder which policy will be enforced on a given day. Recently, SDS held an event inside what they believed to be a free speech zone near the Student Union, as designated by the Golden Rule policy (Section 16.F.1.b). To their surprise, however, SDS was forced to disband by campus police who cited a Student Union policy defining the free speech zone as even smaller than the Golden Rule policy stipulated.

As we point out in our letter, this latest restriction serves to further illustrate the continuing absurdity of UCF’s policy. FIRE wrote:

The maintenance and enforcement of inconsistent rules governing free assembly on campus make UCF’s policies not only unconstitutional—as FIRE’s previous letter detailed—but vague, contradictory, and confusing. Not only are UCF students banned from assembling and engaging in speech anywhere on the UCF campus, but they are apparently left to question which areas within the free speech zones are open to them.

The double policies governing free speech on campus highlight the absurdity of UCF’s practice of restricting free speech only to certain designated areas of campus. How many more obscure policies exist that limit student assembly? If university administrators, campus police, and university policymakers cannot agree on which areas of campus are open to student expression, then how can students be expected to follow the university’s rules?

As FIRE has already indicated, we are prepared to utilize all our resources to assure that UCF students may assemble and protest as their consciences dictate, in accordance with their constitutional freedoms.

Schools:  University of Central Florida