ISU Asks Judge to Dismiss Lawsuit over Marijuana T-Shirts

September 15, 2014

By MacKenzie Elmer at The Des Moines Register

Iowa State University is asking a federal judge to dismiss a lawsuit filed by student members of a pro-marijuana group who claim the university violated their constitutional rights.

Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller, who is representing ISU, filed a motion Sept. 4 countering claims that the university violated students’ freedom of speech when it banned the use of its mascot on the group’s T-shirts. Members of the campus chapter’s National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws filed the lawsuit against university administration in July.

Claims by Paul Gerlich and Erin Furleigh, ISU students and leaders of the group, should be dismissed “for failing to allege sufficient facts to establish any constitutional right in the use of ISU’s trademarks,” Miller wrote.

ISU officials in 2012 banned the Cy the Cardinal logo on NORML’s T-shirts after members displayed the shirt in a photo in The Des Moines Register. The photo prompted complaints from legislators that using the logo gave the appearance that the school endorsed marijuana legalization, officials said.

In January 2013, the school updated its trademark policy to prohibit any uses of the mascot’s image tied to “drugs and drug paraphernalia,” according to the students initial lawsuit. Since the change, T-shirt designs featuring the ISU initials and a cannabis leaf have were rejected twice, the students claimed.

Students have alternative avenues for communicating their message without using the trademark and its use causes confusion, Miller states.

A trademark holder may prevent use of its marks that could confuse an observer about the source of political speech on a purchasable T-shirt and whether the trademark holder “sponsored, endorsed, or is otherwise affiliated with” that speech,” the attorney general wrote.

University administration, including President Steve Leath, named by the students’ lawsuit have “qualified immunity,” which protects public officials acting within the scope of their discretionary authority, Miller states.

The ISU case is one of four court filings coordinated by the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, a Philadelphia-based nationwide litigation campaign.

Other lawsuits were filed against Ohio University, Chicago State University and Citrus College (Calif.), as part of a national effort to eliminate what it believes are unconstitutional speech codes.


Schools: Iowa State University Cases: FIRE’s Stand Up For Speech Litigation Project Iowa State University – Stand Up For Speech Lawsuit