ORLANDO, Fla., December 4, 2006—The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) is calling on the University of Central Florida (UCF) to repeal its unlawful and unfair “free speech zone” policy. This policy quarantines free speech at UCF to four areas covering only a small percentage of its campus.
“It is simply unacceptable for UCF to transform the vast majority of its campus into a censorship area,” FIRE President Greg Lukianoff said. “The current policy is unconstitutional and must be repealed.”
UCF’s Free Assembly Areas policy states that only “four areas shall be deemed free assembly areas for the conduct of political activity and other exercises of free speech.” This policy has recently been used to stop at least two student organizations from holding protests. Last March, members of Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) and UCF Campus Peace Action gathered to protest the Iraq war in front of the student center, a heavily-trafficked area that lies outside the “free speech zones.” As the protest got underway, campus police forced the students to vacate the area. A similar situation occurred in April, when campus police ordered students holding a teach-in about Iran outside the “free speech zones” to disband
This fall, UCF student Patrick DeCarlo, a member of SDS, appealed to FIRE to contest the existence of “free speech zones” at UCF. On November 1, FIRE wrote to UCF President John C. Hitt to inform him that “free speech zones” are unconstitutional, as the law “does not support the transformation of public institutions of higher education into places where constitutional protections are the exception rather than the rule.” On November 17, UCF’s Associate General Counsel Youndy Cook responded obliquely to FIRE’s concerns by suggesting that instead of focusing on the Free Assembly Areas policy, FIRE should take “all of [UCF’s] regulations governing expressive activities on campus” into account.
“That’s exactly the problem at UCF—the university pretends to guarantee free expression with some of its rules and then denies free expression with others,” Lukianoff said. “FIRE will continue to petition UCF until it makes all of its policies consistent with the First Amendment and opens its entire campus to free speech.”
Just last Tuesday, FIRE announced that its efforts had led Clemson University to abandon its “free speech zone” policy. FIRE has also had success in fighting “free speech zones” at West Virginia University, Texas Tech, Citrus College, the University of Nevada at Reno, and the University of North Carolina–Greensboro.
This is the second case in which FIRE has intervened to protect free expression at UCF. Last year, UCF charged a student with harassment through “personal abuse” for calling another student a “jerk and a fool” on Facebook.com. After FIRE became involved in that case, UCF found the student “not in violation” of the harassment policy.
FIRE is a nonprofit educational foundation that unites civil rights and civil liberties leaders, scholars, journalists, and public intellectuals from across the political and ideological spectrum on behalf of individual rights, due process, freedom of expression, academic freedom, and rights of conscience at our nation’s colleges and universities. FIRE’s efforts to preserve liberty at the University of Central Florida can be viewed at thefire.org/ucf.