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Demonstrators at UCF and LSU Enjoy Free Speech on Campus

The University of Central Florida (UCF) and Louisiana State University (LSU) have both recently made positive changes with respect to free speech zones on their campuses, and student journalists are emphasizing the importance of free expression. Adam Rhodes wrote last week for the Central Florida Future, UCF’s student newspaper, to celebrate the university’s acceptance of demonstrations and counter-protests on campus. The university has even created a website clearly stating its policies (PDF)—“Use Your Voice @ UCF”—and emphasizes that students and faculty may use outdoor space for demonstrations and other expressive activities as long as their speech does not disrupt classes, violate laws, or otherwise infringe on others’ rights. This policy stands in stark contrast to UCF’s former “Free Assembly Areas” policy, which earned criticism from FIRE in 2006 and 2007 for limiting students’ “political activity and other exercises of free speech” to four specific areas on campus. UCF still lists six “free assembly areas” on its website, described as “highly visible areas of campus [that] may be great locations for students and student groups”—but “students are not restricted to the designated Free Assembly Areas.” Instead, these are the areas that students are encouraged to use for assembly, and that visitors not affiliated with the school may use with 24 hours’ notice. The Central Florida Future reports that UCF political science professor Cynthia Benson acknowledged the importance of protecting offensive speech on campus, saying that the university “should not be in the business of ... emotional protection.” As the Supreme Court stated in Terminello v. Chicago, 337 U.S. 1 (1949), free speech “may indeed best serve its high purpose when it induces a condition of unrest, creates dissatisfaction with conditions as they are, or even stirs people to anger.” While UCF has made significant strides in protecting student and faculty expression, faculty and administrators should be aware of the specifics of First Amendment jurisprudence so that free speech rights remain wholly protected in the future. Benson remarked to the Central Florida Future: “Free speech zones have been upheld as constitutional. Legally, as far as I know, they are on firm legal ground.” To the contrary, several free speech zones have been struck down in court, and many more universities have voluntarily revised their free speech zone policies to avoid the possibility of similar losses. Public universities may impose reasonable time, place, and manner restrictions on speech, but they must avoid the overly broad restrictions on speech that many colleges have adopted through “free speech zone” policies. Louisiana State University students have also been enjoying their right to free expression throughout the university’s campus after the school revised its policies so that speech would no longer be limited to a 1,000 square foot area named “Free Speech Alley.” As sophomore Justin Blanchard wrote for LSU’s student newspaper, The Daily Reveille, the recent change “allows LSU’s campus to become a much-needed forum where students can freely share ideas.” But Blanchard encourages LSU to continue revising its policies to better protect students’ speech, as the university still receives a “red light” rating from FIRE for its multiple harassment and computer use policies that clearly and substantially restrict freedom of speech. FIRE, of course, would be happy to help LSU in this endeavor. FIRE commends those at UCF and LSU who continue to promote free expression on campus. As Blanchard noted in his article, “Free Speech is a great and powerful right that we cannot start to take for granted.”Image: “Law School – Louisiana State University” - Todd Landry Photography

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