Demand letter calls an Ohio university's policies ‘unconstitutional’
Southeastern Legal Foundation points to two specific policies that infringe on students’ First Amendment rights.
'When a few individuals have authority to assess speech activities, there is a real risk that they will rely on their own views and biases to determine whether to approve an event,' the demand letter argued.
Southeastern Legal Foundation (SLF) sent a demand letter to Miami University of Ohio (MUO) over several of its policies that restrict students from tabling and using campus grounds.
“We are writing to you regarding Miami University’s [of Ohio] facilities use policies related to tabling and other forms of expression on campus. We are concerned that the policies infringe on students’ First Amendment rights because they are vague and impose unreasonable restrictions on the time, place, and manner of speech,” the letter opened.
SLF points to two specific policies that infringe on students’ First Amendment rights.
MUO’s “Use of University Property” requires students to reserve a spot to table “at least fifteen class days in advance of the reserved date” and submit a drawing of the proposed event for review and approval.
Another university policy titled “Public Speaking, Leaflet Distribution, and Demonstrations” requires all “demonstrations” that may include “picketing, petition circulation, public speech making, rallies, the appearance of public speakers in outdoor areas, mass protest meetings to display group feelings” to be approved four weeks in advance.
SLF argues that both policies are “especially dangerous” when “students must hazard guesses as to what conduct or speech is punishable; students cannot be expected to comply with a vague school policy when they have no way of knowing exactly what is required or prohibited.”
Pointing to the Constitution, SLF explains that leaving it up to “university administrators' unfettered discretion to approve or deny speech activities” is “presumptively unconstitutional.”
“When a few individuals have authority to assess speech activities, there is a real risk that they will rely on their own views and biases to determine whether to approve an event,” the letter argued.
The demand letter also points to Supreme Court precedent that has “long embraced the Framers’ hatred of censorship.”
“Our Founding Fathers intended to protect the unfettered discussion on matters of public concern,” SLF stated. “Thus, courts consistently strike down any action that allows the government to stop a citizen’s expression before the citizen is even able to speak.”
MUO student Charlotte Waldron told Campus Reform, “It’s very important that school policy is consistent and easy to understand, especially when it comes to First Amendment rights. At best, the policies conflict with one another, and at worst actually violate Ohio free speech laws.”
Waldron further explained that universities must be “held accountable for policies that chill student speech and expression.”
“It’s very important that universities are held accountable for their policies, and it’s important for students to speak up and bring more widespread attention to issues when they are present,” Waldron continued. “I think oftentimes students are intimidated by school administration and don’t address these issues, but if more attention is brought to these kinds of policies it shows students that it’s possible to see changes on campus that allow for more freedom of speech.”
SLF ended the letter by instructing MUO to revise its “Use of University Property” and “Public Speaking, Leaflet Distribution, and Demonstrations” policies to better protect students’ First Amendment rights on campus.
“It is the duty of college officials to protect and defend the voices of every student on campus,” SLF wrote. “But through its facilities use policies, the University effectively silences students by burdening their speech, failing to impose reasonable time, place, and manner restrictions, and failing to make clear students’ freedom to gather spontaneously in public areas of campus.”
Waldron told Campus Reform she hoped MUO “recognizes the potential issues their policies can cause for students.”
“It’s fully possible the ambiguous wording and conflicting policies are oversights on the University’s part and the letter is all that is needed to correct the issue. Ideally, the letter is all it takes to enact a policy change, but of course, there is a possibility that additional action has to be taken if Miami isn’t willing to revise the policy and protect free speech,” Waldron concluded.
Campus Reform contacted MUO and will update this article accordingly.
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