University promised to get rid of ‘free speech area’ policy SIXTEEN years ago, so why is it still on the books?
- In 2003, Western Illinois University promised to do away with its “free speech area” policy, noting that free speech ideals should apply to all of campus.
- As recently as February, campus police were using the policy to shut down speech on campus.
- In June, the university promised yet again to remove the policy, but two weeks into the fall semester, it remains on the books.
Free speech nonprofit the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education is calling on Western Illinois University to remove its “unconstitutional” “free speech area” policy. The university has made multiple promises to do so as far back as 2003, but so far has not scrapped the policy.
Campus officers have used the policy to stifle speech on campus as recently as March of this year. After an incident in which campus police shut down members of the student group Young Americans for Liberty for displaying satirical signs about “‘pot’ brownies” outside of the school free speech zone, FIRE called upon the university to end its “unconsitututional “free speech area” policy for good.
The involved students had with them a literal “pot” full of normal, drugless brownies.
According to FIRE’s Individual Rights Defense Program director Adam Steinbaugh, the university was actually “ahead of the pack” when it vowed to do away with the policy 16 years ago in 2003. But the policy was still on the books when campus police shut down the YAL event.
After FIRE contacted WIU in June about this contradiction, WIU reportedly told the organization that it would discontinue and remove the policy from the university website “as soon as possible.”
But, the “free speech area” policy remains posted as students return to school for the fall.
"WIU was ahead of the pack in 2003 when they said they’d eliminate their unconstitutional free speech zone,” Steinbaugh said, according to a FIRE news release. “Now it’s time they put their laudable words into action — by finally removing the restrictions that still stifle student expression today.”
“Students, who have been back to class for more than two weeks, can still be punished by the policy that to this day remains published online and referenced as recently as this year,” FIRE noted in the Thursday news release. “FIRE today is calling on WIU Acting-President Martin Abraham to immediately remove the inconsistent policies that not only imperil students’ First Amendment rights, but exposes the institution to liability.”
“I was four when this policy was supposedly eliminated, but the unconstitutional free speech zone somehow still lives on,” student Dylan Crowl, who was present at the March “pot” brownies incident, said, according to the release. “It shouldn’t take 16 years for a college to live up to its promises, and obligations, to protect free speech.”
WIU did not respond to a request for comment in time for publication.
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