VICTORY: University changes policy that prompted employee to threaten to call the cops over ‘free speech ball’
The letter was successful in its goal of prompting the university to change its rules in accordance with the First Amendment.
After a freshman at UW-River Falls was threatened with police presence for exercising her First Amendment right to free speech, the university was confronted by a letter from the Alliance Defending Freedom.
New policies include the phrase “Students shall be permitted to assemble and engage in spontaneous expressive activity,” and students are no longer required to make reservations or be an official club to engage in speech on campus.
In fall 2019, a University of Wisconsin-River Falls campus official threatened to call the police on Sofie Salmon, a freshman student exercising her right to free speech by rolling a six-foot inflated “free speech ball” around the campus courtyard – allowing other students to write whatever they desired on it.
The official told Salmon that she could not engage in free speech or free expression in the public outdoor areas of the campus unless she had registered as a student club or had made a reservation.
Salmon, now a rising sophomore, and Rebekah Beeton, who was a Regional Field Coordinator for the Leadership Institute, Campus Reform's parent organization, at the time both took out their phones and recorded the encounter with the campus official.
During this brief encounter, the campus official, Kristin Barstad, accuses Salmon of violating one of the university’s policies but admitted that she was “not going to know that [policy]” off the top of her head.
UW-River Falls did not respond to Campus Reform when asked which specific policy was allegedly violated by Salmon.
Soon after this incident took place and the video began circulating, the Alliance Defending Freedom sent UW-River Falls a letter accusing the school of violating the student's right to free speech. The ADF deemed the university’s policies “unconstitutional.”
“To avoid litigation and comply with the First Amendment we request that you immediately revise UW-River Falls’ policies on expression to permit students to engage in expression in public outdoor areas without prior restraint,” the letter read, adding that “public universities have a constitutional obligation to uphold the marketplace of ideas through clear, objective policies that promote the ability of students to engage in the free exchange of ideas and competing views on campus.”
On July 15, the University of Wisconsin-River Falls agreed to adopt new policies regarding students’ First Amendment rights on campus.
"I first extend my sincerest gratitude and congratulations to Sofie Salmon for her active role in changing campus culture at UW-River Falls to be free speech friendly,” Asha Moline, the former president of UW-River Falls’ Liberty Society told Campus Reform. “As the former president of The Liberty Society on campus, few things are more satisfying than knowing the fight for freedom lives on.”
“Any academic institution that not only lacks protection of students’ constitutional right to free speech but actively works against them has not earned the right to call themselves an academic institution,” Moline continued, adding “today, UW-River Falls earned that right."
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