Victory for Freedom of Speech at Fayetteville State University

October 12, 2007

Students at Fayetteville State University in North Carolina are freer today, thanks to the university’s decision to revise an unconstitutional speech code. The old policy, which FIRE named its January 2007 Speech Code of the Month, defined racial harassment as any “verbal or physical behavior that stigmatizes or victimizes an individual on the basis of race and involves an express or implied threat to another person’s academic pursuits or participation in activities sponsored by the University or organizations or groups related to the University.” As FIRE pointed out last January, this policy was identical to a speech code struck down by a federal court in 1989 for both vagueness and overbreadth. Thankfully, Fayetteville State completely revised the offending policy for the 2007-2008 academic year. Instead of a broad and vague prohibition, the policy now prohibits only true harassment, which is unprotected by the First Amendment. It now defines racial harassment as “verbal or physical behavior on the basis of race that is so severe, pervasive, and objectively offensive that it bars the victim’s access to an educational opportunity or benefit or alters the conditions of the victim’s employment and creates an abusive working environment.” FIRE applauds Fayetteville State for taking this important step to protect its students’ First Amendment rights.