FIRE Director of Legal and Public Advocacy Will Creeley wrote an article examining the ruling in DeJohn v. Temple University featured yesterday on JURIST, a legal news and research site. Will discusses at length the potential implications of the DeJohn ruling, and places it in the wider context of the battle for free speech on America’s campuses today. While noting the importance of the ruling and the message it should send to public universities in the United States, Will gives a sober assessment of the still-abundant presence of vague and overbroad speech codes in America’s colleges, noting that “[m]any of these unconstitutional speech codes are far worse than Temple’s former sexual harassment policy.” Will also cites cases FIRE has been involved in at Brandeis University, Tufts University, William Paterson University, and Indiana University–Purdue University Indianapolis as examples where universities have used such policies to punish protected expression and impermissibly chill free speech in their communities.
Still, Will sees much cause for hope in the DeJohn ruling, saying that “Hopefully, with the weight of the Third Circuit behind the ruling, public universities will finally get the message: Harassment policies must be carefully tailored so as to target only that speech which constitutes “true harassment” under binding Supreme Court precedent.” DeJohn, he says, has made Temple the latest university whose speech code has failed to pass constitutional muster, and has struck a major blow to college administrators justifying their actions on the basis of the in loco parentis rights given to high schools in the treatment of their students. “Simply put,” Will says, “DeJohn is a powerful opinion for the expressive rights of students, the influence of which will be felt for years to come.” Be sure to read the full text of Will’s article, and keep checking the Torch as we continue our coverage of this important ruling.