San Francisco State University Puts Indefinite Hold on Outdoor Protests

September 8, 2008

San Francisco State University is at it again. SFSU has posted a statement on its website suspending all outdoor protests. The statement reads:

The Outdoor Reservation Request Process for Fall 2008 and Spring 2009 events has been postponed until further notice per University Administration. The postponement will be in effect until completion of a review of Time, Place, and Manner policies by a task force with final recommendations subject to Presidential approval by the President’s Cabinet. It is the intent that the review will be completed in early summer. We apologize for any inconvenience.

The College Republicans intend to hold a 9/11 memorial next week pursuant to their First Amendment rights and in defiance of the university’s unconstitutional ban on outdoor events. Alliance Defense Fund attorney David Hacker wrote to SFSU on Friday explaining that the First Amendment does not allow SFSU to close down a public forum, such as the outdoor areas of the SFSU campus, unless that action is narrowly drawn to achieve a compelling state interest. A blanket ban on outdoor protests certainly does not meet this exacting standard. Hacker asked SFSU to make the following assurances in writing:

(1) that you will respect College Republicans First Amendment rights, (2) that College Republicans may conduct its 9/11 Memorial on Thursday, September 11, 2008 in Malcolm X Plaza, and (3) that SFSU has re-implemented the Outdoor Reservation Request Process and will permit all student groups on campus to reserve outdoor space for their activities.

FIRE will be monitoring the situation closely as it develops.  

Of course, this isn’t the first time SFSU has had trouble understanding its constitutional obligations regarding protests. In late 2006, the university charged the College Republicans with "attempts to incite violence and create a hostile environment" and "actions of incivility" for stomping on paper-made Hamas and Hezbollah flags. FIRE wrote to the university in January 2007, demanding that it cease its unconstitutional investigation of clearly protected expression:

A public university such as SFSU should not investigateand cannot lawfully punishstudents for engaging in expression that is unquestionably protected by the First Amendment. (See Texas v. Johnson, 491 U.S. 397 (1989), holding that burning an American flag as part of a political protest is expression protected by the First Amendment).

Nevertheless, SFSU President Robert Corrigan defended the investigation. Not until March 19, 2007, after another FIRE letter and two FIRE press releases, did President Corrigan announce that the College Republicans were found "not guilty." With the help of the ADF, the College Republicans sued SFSU for their treatment and for the school’s speech code and U.S. Magistrate Judge Wayne Brazil issued a preliminary injunction prohibiting all the schools in the California State University System from enforcing their overbroad "civility" code. In a settlement with the College Republicans, SFSU agreed to revise its policies in accordance with the First Amendment.

Schools:  San Francisco State University

Cases:  San Francisco State University: Speech Code Litigation Project