FORT PIERCE — Indian River Community College has dropped a policy banning student groups from showing R-rated films after a legal review found it violated the First Amendment, school officials said Wednesday.
IRCC ordered the review last month after a national students’ rights organization threatened to sue the college for “clear and basic constitutional violations” for preventing the Christian Student Fellowship from showing “The Passion of the Christ” on campus.
Members of the Christian group first challenged IRCC’s policy in November. But it wasn’t until students contacted the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education that the college moved to examine the policy.
IRCC paid the Tallahassee law firm Holland & Knight $7,000 to conduct the review.
“Often, colleges cannot justify in public what they defend in private,” said David French, president of the Philadelphia-based foundation that has sued 10 colleges and universities alleging civil rights violations since it was founded in 1999.
Seven of the cases ended in the foundation’s favor, three are pending, he said.
“If there’s a free speech or academic freedom violation going on in education we want to expose it,” he said.
“When exposure is not enough to incite change, we litigate.”
The IRCC case gained attention from national news organizations in January after the foundation released statements condemning the college for the R-rated movie ban.
Officials said the practice was intended to protect the 800 high school students who attend IRCC as part of the dual-enrollment program. Those students represent 4 percent of the college’s total enrollment.
Although IRCC struck down its blanket ban on R-rated films, officials re-affirmed the college’s reliance on a review committee to approve all student activities and events on campus.
The committee now will evaluate requests from a “content-neutral viewpoint” on a case-by-case basis with “time, place and manner” guidelines outlined by the U.S. Supreme Court for constitutionally protected materials.
IRCC officials said they would uphold their duty to set appropriate parameters for activities and events while respecting students’ rights.
“It’s our job to strike the appropriate balance,” said Johnny Moore, vice president of student affairs.
Moore acknowledged the school made a mistake when a small group of students used the college’s Blackbox Theatre to recite pieces they wrote about Jesus and sexuality during the fall semester without approval from the review committee.
Meanwhile, the committee has approved the “The Passion of the Christ” to be shown on campus.Download file "IRCC reverses ban on showing R-rated films"
Schools: Indian River State College