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University of Alabama’s Grounds Use Policy Strikes Again

Quad at University of Alabama - Wikimedia Commons

The Crimson White, the student newspaper at the University of Alabama, reports this week on the latest controversy surrounding the university's grounds use policy. As Torch readers may remember, the policy was enforced against students attempting to organize a school-wide performance of the Harlem Shake in February. Now comes word that the policy's enforcement has interrupted student demonstrations, silencing core political speech.  

According to The Crimson White, members of the Alabama Alliance for Sexual & Reproductive Justice (AASRJ) were threatened with arrest after they began handing out fliers last week on the school's quad in response to a demonstration by Bama Students for Life. Although AASRJ had applied for a grounds use permit that day, their demonstration had not yet been approved and obviously failed to meet the policy's 10 day required waiting period. According to Samaria Johnson, the incoming president of AASRJ, the group reacted quickly after learning of the Bama Students for Life event and wanted to be sure to present an alternative viewpoint to the anti-abortion protest. Waiting 10 days to provide that viewpoint would have effectively muted the group's response. In comments to the paper, Johnson argues, "We weren't filing to host Quidditch on the Quad or film the Harlem Shake; we were responding to a very real issue that demanded direct, immediate address."

Unfortunately, Alabama's grounds use policy precludes such spontaneous speech—whether it's a school-wide dance video or an organized counter-protest. 

Although The Crimson White urged students to come together to work for the policy's revision in an editorial back in February, it appears that collaboration is far from reaching fruition. Sadly, in response to this week's event, representatives of Bama Students for Life told The Crimson White that the university's policy allows for free speech. Representatives of AARSJ surely don't feel that way, and in the future more and more students and student groups, including Bama Students for Life, may find themselves in a similar situation. As our own Will Creeley wrote in The Huffington Post

UA has taught students a depressing lesson in censorship, bureaucracy, and heavy-handed regulation. Even if UA's response was constitutionally permissible — and that's arguable — it's counterproductive and at odds with the university's interest in fostering student involvement, interaction, and school pride.

As this latest report shows, Alabama's grounds use policy continues to be as "counterproductive" as ever. In order to truly sponsor the open exchange of ideas on campus, it's time for the university to revise this problematic policy.

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