Today, FIRE filed an amicus curiae brief in the case of DeJohn v. Temple University, urging the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit to uphold a district court decision that Temple’s speech code violated its students’ First Amendment rights. FIRE’s brief was joined by a remarkable coalition of nonprofit groups, including the ACLU of Pennsylvania, the Christian Legal Society, Collegefreedom.org, Feminists for Free Expression, the Individual Rights Foundation, Students for Academic Freedom, and the Student Press Law Center. The coalition was represented in the filing by attorney L. Theodore Hoppe, Jr.
FIRE’s brief addressed the increasing trend among college administrators to equate the rights of college students with those of high school students. We saw this in the Hosty v. Carter case and again in this case, where Temple argued that the Supreme Court’s recent decision in Morse v. Frederick—which upheld the narrow right of high school administrators to regulate student speech “reasonably regarded as encouraging illegal drug use”—permitted Temple to restrict any “student’s speech that is inconsistent with its ‘basic educational mission.’” This trend is especially dangerous in light of recent case law, including Morse, which substantially contracts the free speech rights of high school students. As FIRE President Greg Lukianoff stated in today’s press release, “It is simply unconscionable to treat university students—whose ages can range from eighteen to eighty, and almost all of whom can vote and serve our nation in war—as having no greater free speech rights than high school students. If the precedents which now so weakly protect the rights of high school students are suddenly applied to the university environment, campus free speech and academic freedom would be in serious jeopardy.”
FIRE’s brief also placed the Temple University speech code in context by informing the court about the free speech crisis on America’s college and university campuses. Far from being an exception, Temple’s speech code is part of a pattern of unconstitutional speech codes at public universities nationwide, in defiance of decades of legal precedent striking such codes down.
We will keep you posted on the latest developments as this case progresses.