This Month in FIRE History: College Refuses to Allow Student to Distribute PETA Literature

July 1, 2010

As June came to a close, I took a look back to June of 2005, when FIRE reported a free speech victory after Florida’s Seminole Community College (SCC) attempted to forbid student Eliana Campos from distributing literature protesting what she saw as slaughterhouse brutality. An administrator initially refused to honor Campos’ constitutional rights because the source of the literature (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, or PETA) "instill[ed] a feeling" in her that she did not like. She told Campos that she would only be allowed to "stand and speak freely" about her beliefs in the college’s tiny and ill-defined "free speech area."

Only a few hours after FIRE took the case public, SCC agreed to respect Campos’ civil liberties and allowed her to distribute the PETA literature. 

FIRE wrote in its letter to SCC at the time: 

It is essential to remember that the special function of a college or university as a whole, in any free society, is to serve as the ultimate "free speech zone."  A college that is serious about providing its students with a true education should be seeking at all times to expand open discourse, to develop intellectual inquiry, and to engage and challenge the way people think.  By limiting free speech to a small fraction of the campus, SCC sends the message that speech is to be feared, restrained, and monitored. 

Of course, free speech zones remain repressive on campuses across the country. FIRE has defeated similar free speech zones at the University of North Carolina at GreensboroWest Virginia University,University of Nevada at RenoCitrus College in California, and Texas Tech University, among others.