By Lindsay Whitehurst at The Associated Press
Three Dixie State University students filed a lawsuit Wednesday saying that administrators at the southern Utah college violated their free speech rights by refusing to let them post fliers with satirical pictures of former President George W. Bush and the revolutionary leader Che Guevara.
The members of Young Americans for Liberty also say one of their events designed to celebrate free speech was wrongly relegated to a small, out-of-the-way part of the St. George-based campus. The lawsuit filed in federal court seeks damages and changes to rules the students call arbitrary.
“I don’t think we have any other options,” said plaintiff William Jergins, a 24-year-old senior studying political science, economics and math. “Things like we did, kind of poking fun at public figures, I don’t think should be disallowed.”
The lawsuit is directed by the Philadelphia-based Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, part of a nationwide series of lawsuits over free speech issues on college campuses.
“The function of an education is the free exchange of ideas,” said Catherine Sevcenko, a lawyer with the group. “You got there to sort of have your ideas tested.”
The students — Jergins, Joey Gillespie and Forrest Gee — say in court documents that the public school requires students to get permission before posting things on campus. They asked to put up three fliers featuring the photos with satirical captions last October. But they say they were denied because the fliers violated school policy by mocking people.
Later that fall, the students wanted to put up “Free Speech Wall” in the center of campus covered with blank sheets of paper for students to write their own messages.
The students say they got four signatures from different administrators required to hold on-campus events, but officials said it had to be held in a designated free-speech zone. The students say the area is a patio in an out-of-the-way spot where few students pass by.
The lawsuit says even fewer people stopped after a police officer came to watch for about 30 minutes, even though they had declined a police presence.
The students also say the event-approval process is arbitrary, pointing to a water-gun fight they wanted to hold to recognize the Second Amendment that was denied by administrators, even though a different water-gun fight was approved.
The lawsuit names seven Dixie State administrators, including President Richard Williams. Dixie State has about 8,600 students.
Young Americans for Liberty is a libertarian-leaning organization associated with former U.S. Rep. Ron Paul.