Speech Code of the Month: McNeese State University

July 3, 2007

FIRE announces its Speech Code of the Month for July 2007: McNeese State University.

This public university in Louisiana maintains a set of “Public Forum Regulations” that quarantine free speech to just two areas of campus and place onerous restrictions on the use of those areas. The regulations provide that students may exercise their right to speak and demonstrate—a right guaranteed to students of this public institution by the First Amendment—in just two “zones”:

Zone A: The grassy lawn area, surrounded by pavement on all sides, located in the southeast section of the Quad between the Student Union Annex and the East-West sidewalk, east of center, of the Quad.

Zone B: The grassy lawn area, surrounded by pavement or building walls, located south of the Holbrook Student Services Building between the Office of Student Services and Beauregard Drive.

The regulations also state that students may only speak in the zones once per week, for a maximum of two hours; that student groups may only demonstrate “once during each Fall, Spring, and summer session in the assigned demonstration zone only”; that applications to use the zones must be received at least 72 hours in advance; and that the zones may only be used from dawn to dusk, Monday through Friday.

This outrageous set of regulations is the mother of all free speech zone policies. It is restrictive in every way possible: it restricts where students can speak; how frequently they can speak; how long they can speak; and at what times of the day and week they can speak. As a censorship cherry on top, it requires students to give at least 3 days advance notice in order to speak.

A federal district court in the Fifth Circuit—of which Louisiana is a part—struck down a much less restrictive policy at Texas Tech University on the grounds that it unnecessarily restricted students’ right to free speech. The court held that there were certain areas of a public university’s campus—namely “park areas, sidewalks, streets, or other similar common areas”—that were “irreducible public forums” for the students on that campus. One need only look at a map of McNeese State to see that there are other such areas besides Zone A and Zone B. The court also held that Texas Tech’s prior permission requirement—which was only two days, as opposed to McNeese State’s three—“is not narrowly tailored and therefore it is unconstitutional because it sweeps too broadly in imposing a burden on a substantial amount of expression that does not interfere with any significant interests of the University.” Roberts v. Haragan, 346 F. Supp. 2d 853 (N.D. Tex. 2004).

There is simply no justification for a public university to place such burdensome restrictions on its students’ constitutionally guaranteed rights to free speech and assembly. Not only would this policy not hold up in a court of law, but it is also a moral outrage. College is supposed to be a place where ideas flow freely, not where they are so tightly restricted that they can reasonably be compared to the laws of Singapore.

For these reasons, McNeese State University is our July 2007 Speech Code of the Month. If you believe that your college or university should be a Speech Code of the Month, please email speechcodes@thefire.org with a link to the policy and a brief description of why you think attention should be drawn to this code.

Schools:  McNeese State University