By Lindsay Whitehurst at SF Gate
SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Dixie State University has suspended its campus speech rules amid a lawsuit from students who say the policies violated their right to free speech.
The president of the southern Utah institution announced in an email that the school is updating rules that a group of students said blocked the posting of fliers with satirical pictures of President Barack Obama, former PresidentGeorge W. Bush and the revolutionary leader Che Guevara.
President Biff Williams said in the all-campus email Monday that he was troubled that the students didn’t bring the concerns to him before suing.
Still, academic freedom is important on the campus where “even unpopular answers, seemingly absurd ideas, and unconventional thought are not only permitted, but even encouraged,” he wrote.
Plaintiff and student William Jergins said is encouraged by the suspension of what he called troublesome codes at the public university.
“Students at Dixie State pay a lot of money to learn in an environment that is protective of their First Amendment rights,” the 24-year-old Jergins said in a statement.
While the rules are suspended, students can post material on campus bulletin boards and hold events without prior approval outside designated free speech zones.
Posted papers will still have to be date-stamped and removed within 15 days, and fliers can’t be posted on windows, doors, buildings or trees.
It wasn’t immediately clear Wednesday how long the policy revision process might take, or what the new rules might entail.
After the suit was filed in March, the two sides expressed interest in working together on new speech policies, said Dixie State spokesman Steve Johnson.
Jergins and two other students from the libertarian-leaning student group Young Americans for Liberty contend it was unconstitutional for administrators to tell them they couldn’t post the fliers last October because the material violated a school policy by mocking people.
They also ran into problems holding events, including one designed to celebrate free speech with a wall of blank paper that students could write on. They say it was wrongly relegated to a small, out-of-the-way free speech zone on the St. George-based campus and monitored by a police officer against their wishes.
Administrators denied permission to hold a water gun fight designed to recognize the Second Amendment, even though another water gun fight organized by a different group was approved, the students said in court papers.
The suit was filed with the aid of the Philadelphia-based Foundation for Individual Rights in Education. It was one of a series of lawsuits filed around the country. The group’s president applauded the Dixie State policy review and said it will continue to monitor the revision process.
“Students shouldn’t need to go to a free speech zone or ask permission from administrators to exercise their free speech rights on a public university campus,” group president Greg Lukianoff said in a statement.
No hearings have been scheduled in the lawsuit, which seeks damages and changes to the rules.