FIRE announces our Speech Code of the Month for September 2017: Middle Georgia State University.
According to MGA’s ironically named Freedom of Expression Policy, “[t]he University has designated ‘Free Expression Areas’ on each campus, and these areas are the only areas that may be used for expression.” (Emphasis added.) In fact, “areas” is too generous — there is just one free expression area on each of the university’s five campuses. On the main campus in Macon, for example, expressive activity is limited to “the lawn between the Education Building and the Library.” And despite the fact that students in Macon are required to live on campus until they have completed at least 30 credit hours, expressive activities are permitted only “Monday through Friday.”
MGA, as a public university, is obligated to uphold its students’ First Amendment rights. And while a public institution like MGA may, consistent with the First Amendment, adopt reasonable, content-neutral, and narrowly tailored “time, place, and manner” regulations governing expressive activities on campus, these kind of restrictive free speech zones are neither reasonable nor narrowly tailored. Indeed, these types of policies have been repeatedly rejected by courts, with yet more schools voluntarily revising their policies in response to legal challenges (many of which have been coordinated as part of FIRE’s Stand Up For Speech Litigation Project).
Yet such policies continue to persist. According to FIRE’s most recent report on campus speech codes, 1 in 10 of the 449 schools we surveyed maintains a free speech zone policy (with many more placing other types of restrictions, like onerous waiting periods, on expressive activity). Any public university, like MGA, that maintains a restrictive free speech zone policy is extremely vulnerable to a constitutional challenge.
For this reason, Middle Georgia State University is our September 2017 Speech Code of the Month. If you believe that your college’s or university’s policy should be a Speech Code of the Month, please email firstname.lastname@example.org with a link to the policy and a brief description of why you think attention should be drawn to this code. If you are a current college student or faculty member interested in free speech, consider joining the FIRE Student Network, a coalition of college faculty members and students dedicated to advancing individual liberties on their campuses.