By Morgan Jacobsen at Deseret News
ST. GEORGE — Dixie State University announced Monday it has placed a moratorium on parts of its free speech policy after three students sued the university in March for refusing to let them post satirical fliers.
University leaders also plan to revise policies dealing with free speech as well as materials posted on campus bulletin boards and residence halls.
In an email Monday, Dixie President Richard Williams said he was “troubled” that students didn’t try to resolve the issue with him before taking legal action, but it did highlight the need to “update and revise” some of the university’s policies.
“Dixie State University is a campus of academic freedom, with the right to inquire broadly and to question, and where even unpopular answers, seemingly absurd ideas, and unconventional thoughts are not only permitted, but even encouraged,” Williams said in the email. “At the same time, universities are communities that must balance the requirements of free speech with issues of civility, respect and human dignity.”
The three students filed the lawsuit in federal court after they were denied permission to post fliers with satirical pictures of President Barack Obama, former President George W. Bush and Cuban revolutionary Che Guevara to promote their Young Americans for Liberty student group.
The fliers were reviewed by university administration but were not approved because they “mocked individuals,” which is against university policy, according to the complaint.
The students say one of their events intended to celebrate free speech was confined to a small, out-of-the way part of Dixie’s campus in St. George. As a result, the students “were unable to freely express their beliefs and their outreach efforts were curtailed for fear of being punished under Dixie State policies,” the complaint states.
The lawsuit is largely directed on the students’ behalf by the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, based in Philadelphia.
Until new statutes are implemented, the university will not enforce its policies on posting materials on campus bulletin boards, requiring students to obtain school approval before holding speech events and having to hold them in “free-speech zones,” according to the email from Williams posted on the foundation’s website.
William Jergins, one of the student plaintiffs in the lawsuit, said in a prepared statement that Dixie’s suspension of its policy is “an encouraging first step toward the open learning environment Dixie State students want and deserve.”