Today’s press release highlights the University of Central Florida’s refusal to renounce and repeal its “free speech zone” policy that quarantines free speech to only four areas of UCF’s campus.
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.” Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) got into trouble last spring for holding a series of antiwar protests outside of the school-sanctioned zones. In March, SDS held a protest in cooperation with UCF Campus Peace Action to protest the war in Iraq in front of the student center, which was outside of the free speech zone. Campus police arrived shortly to force the students, who had peacefully assembled, to remove themselves to one of the four “free speech zones.” In April, the organization held a protest against a feared invasion of Iran along a main campus walkway; again the protest was broken up by campus police.
SDS member Patrick DeCarlo contacted FIRE asking for help in challenging UCF’s unconstitutional policy. On November 1, FIRE wrote to UCF to object to the free speech zones and to encourage UCF to respect the First Amendment rights of its students, pointing out that the law does not allow public universities to transform their campuses into “places where constitutional protections are the exception rather than the rule.”
On November 17, Youndy Cook, UCF’s Associate General Counsel, responded to FIRE’s concerns by essentially ignoring them and suggesting that FIRE take “all of [UCF’s] regulations governing expressive activities on campus” into account when considering the constitutionality of the “free speech zone policy.” UCF is a public university and therefore is public property governed by the First Amendment; allowing free speech on campus is not optional for UCF, it’s mandatory. Policies that state otherwise are unconstitutional, and that goes for these highly restrictive “free speech zone” policies.
FIRE has had considerable success in fighting “free speech zones” at West Virginia University, Texas Tech, Citrus College, the University of Nevada at Reno, the University of North Carolina–Greensboro, and most recently at Clemson University. UCF would do well to read the handwriting on the wall—tiny, out-of-the-way free speech zones are not congruent with the letter or the spirit of the First Amendment or academic freedom and they must go.