FIRE’s Peter Bonilla on U of Alabama and Restrictions on Spontaneous Expression

July 10, 2013

In an article for PolicyMic today, director of FIRE’s Individual Rights Defense Program Peter Bonilla wrote to discuss the compelling reasons why free speech advocates are putting pressure on the University of Alabama to revise its grounds use policies, which require 10 days’ notice for protests—even quiet, peaceful ones—on campus. In his article, Peter explains the common sense problem with such a requirement, particularly as applied to students who want to engage in real-time discussions on current events. He notes that while narrowly-tailored time, place, and manner restrictions on speech are allowable in some circumstances in order to prevent disruption to teaching and school administration, in this case, students weren’t trying to stage the next Live Aid concert on the quad. They were peacefully handing out fliers on a matter of public concern. What legitimate interest is being served by preventing them from doing so without a permit? Your guess is as good as mine. Simply put, a handful of students peacefully distributing fliers on the main public area of a public university campus should never have to obtain permission from their university for the privilege of doing so.From a practical standpoint, requirements that students seek permission for their expression a minimum number of days in advance are at odds with the reality of campus life. Spontaneous gatherings, protests, and demonstrations are a common feature of the modern campus, as students (like the general public) often want to respond to world events in real time. Just think of the recent rulings handed down by the Supreme Court on affirmative action, the Voting Rights Act, the Defense of Marriage Act, and Proposition 8. If students, upon hearing the news of such rulings, wanted to take to the quad and rally support or opposition for the rulings, does UA really want to tell them they might have to wait 10 days to do so? Read the rest of Peter’s thoughtful analysis on PolicyMic.

Schools:  University of Alabama

Cases:  University of Alabama: Pro-Choice Group Ordered to Get Permit for Non-Disruptive Expression or Face Arrest