ORLANDO, Fla., June 16, 2005—In a quick yet important victory for freedom of speech, Florida’s Seminole Community College (SCC) is allowing a student to distribute literature on slaughterhouse brutality on equal terms with other students and student groups.
The college, which had initially insisted that student Eliana Campos distribute literature only within the college’s so-called “free speech zone,” reversed this decision only a few hours after the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) took the case public yesterday. SCC has also promised to review and recommend changes to its speech policies to ensure students’ constitutional rights are respected.
“FIRE is very pleased that SCC has affirmed its commitment to the U.S. Constitution and rejected unlawful repression,” stated David French, president of FIRE. “We are hopeful that SCC will seize this opportunity to create policies that respect the fundamental rights of all of its students.”
Campos’ trouble began when an SCC administrator initially forbade her from passing out literature from People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) at a table near the café because of the administrator’s aversion to the organization. After Campos and FIRE protested the action, administrators responded by pointing to a policy that restricted speech to a small and out-of-the-way “free speech zone” and claiming that campus policy limited tabling in the café to registered student organizations—not individual students.
FIRE wrote the college again after administrators failed to produce a written copy of the alleged tabling policy. When the college did not respond, FIRE went public. Less than seven hours after the press release was issued, FIRE received a fax from SCC Vice President James D. Henningsen stating that the college “fully values and supports free speech and the protection of our [F]irst [A]mendment rights” and that it will now allow Campos to set up a table in the campus’ café to distribute PETA literature. Henningsen also promised that SCC would create a committee to review and make recommendations for changes to the college’s existing speech policies.
“SCC’s decision not only ends the college’s blatant viewpoint discrimination, it has delivered yet another blow to the nationwide problem of ‘free speech zones,’ which restrict free speech to one small area and make the rest of a campus a censorship zone,” remarked FIRE Director of Legal and Public Advocacy Greg Lukianoff. “State institutions owe it to their students to recognize that our colleges and universities are, in a sense, the ‘free speech zones’ of the larger society and administrators therefore should not seek to quarantine expression from all but a tiny corner of the campus. FIRE has already defeated these policies at many campuses, including West Virginia University, Texas Tech University, Citrus College and Shippensburg University.”
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 on campuses across America can be viewed at thefire.org.