Earlier in the month, students William Jergins, Joey Gillespie, and Forrest Gee filed a First Amendment lawsuit against Utah’s Dixie State University, the eighth and most recent suit filed as part of FIRE’s Stand Up For Speech Litigation Project.
We at FIRE are no strangers to the argument that campuses must be a “safe space” free from emotional and ideological discomfort. Dixie State kicks it up a notch by ensuring that sitting presidents and long-dead revolutionaries are also protected from the peril of college students with sharpened viewpoints—in this case, flyers negatively portraying Presidents Barack Obama and George W. Bush as well as Cuban revolutionary Che Guevara. As the Associated Press reported earlier this month:
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.
The suit also challenges other speech codes at Dixie State, such as its policy establishing a “free speech zone” that comprises roughly 0.1 percent of the campus acreage. When the students hosted a free speech wall event on campus, after acquiring the requisite approval from no fewer than four separate campus entities, they were restricted to the tiny zone and visited by a campus police officer who was checking for “hate speech.”
Here’s a sampling of recent news coverage of the suit:
- “Dixie State violates free speech, students say in lawsuit,” Associated Press
- The Spectrum, “DSU club sues university over free speech limits,” Kevin Jenkins
- Cato Institute, “As Free Speech Is So Often Punished, How Worried Are You?” Nat Hentoff
- Campus Reform, “University attempts to regulate free speech wall, gets sued,” Taylor Grenawalt
- The SU Independent, “OPINION: Dixie State University lawsuit and the millstones of justice,” Dallas Hyland
- Reason, “Young Libertarians Sue Dixie State U, Clinton Will Release Some Emails, Ferguson as Conspiracy Against Residents: A.M. Links,” Elizabeth Nolan Brown
- Free Beacon, “Students Banned from Handing Out Flyers Critical of Obama, Bush, Che Guevara,” Mary Lou Byrd
- OneNewsNow, “Higher ed., lower thinking: 2 states dumb-down student speech,” Bob Kellogg
And this isn’t the first time Dixie State has had major free speech issues. Back in 2013, it sought to bar any student organization from using Greek alphabet letters in its name, an attempt to distance the institution from its apparent “party school” image.
Now, under federal scrutiny and with the media watching, Dixie State may finally learn its lesson. As Cato Senior Fellow and FIRE Board of Advisors member Nat Hentoff puts it, “it’s wonderful to see students like those at Dixie State take to the courts to rescue the First Amendment. They’re becoming our educators.”