University no longer requires permission for free speech

Fairmont State University has agreed to revise its solicitation policy after a conservative student was prohibited from collecting signatures for a Young Americans for Liberty (YAL) chapter.

In October, student Dustin Winski and Leadership Institute Field Representative Abe Alassaf were informed by a school police officer that they would need to obtain permission from university officials in order to continue recruiting for their conservative organization, in accordance with school policy.

“Soliciting requires you to talk to one of the people, especially Falcon Center, and ask permission to do it, they set something up, a time for you,” the officer reportedly explained, prompting a blistering response from the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), which declared that “this unconstitutional restriction of FSU students’ expressive rights cannot stand at a public university legally and morally bound by the First Amendment.”

[RELATED: FIRE ranks 10 worst schools for free speech]

“FSU must promptly make clear to students that their First Amendment rights will not be unduly burdened by an overbroad policy subjecting student speech to administrators’ prior review,” FIRE stated, leading to a review of the school’s solicitation policy conducted by West Virginia Attorney General Dawn George, who worked with FIRE to revise the language of FSU’s policy.

FIRE subsequently suggested policy revisions for the Board of Governors to consider, which the Board voted to accept at its latest meeting on Thursday.

The updated policy now distinguishes between “commercial” and “non-commercial” solicitation, allowing students and student groups to conduct non-commercial solicitation without reserving space provided that the activity does not interfere with the normal conduct of campus operations.

[RELATED: Campus free-speech bills gaining steam nationwide]

“Public universities cannot require students to get written permission to take part in political canvassing on campus. FIRE commends Fairmont State for working with us to ensure its students are free to engage in core expressive activity,” FIRE Program Officer Sarah McLaughlin remarked in a Friday press release. “FIRE stands ready to work with any university interested in reforming its speech codes to better protect its students’ First Amendment rights.”

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