Letter challenges 'Bama to match rival’s free speech policy

A University of Alabama student group sent a letter to administrators Monday provocatively lauding their football rival for having a more effective campus free speech policy.

The letter, written on behalf of a student group by members of Alliance Defending Freedom and Young America’s Foundation on the eve of the Oct. 21 football game against University of Tennessee, urges the school to improve its Facilities and Grounds Use Policy, which currently requires a special permit for some forms of speech.

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“It’s almost the Third Saturday in October. But while no one born since the advent of the iPhone can remember a Tennessee victory over Alabama on the gridiron, Tennessee’s free speech winning streak over Alabama is alive and well,” the letter reads.

“As you’ll see, we’re hoping this communication counts as a ‘casual’ expression under University of Alabama’s Facilities and Grounds Use Policy, since we don’t have prior permission from the University to engage in formal expression,” the letter continues, adding that “if we were writing the University of Tennessee, we could be more formal because they don’t require advance permission for either kind of expression.”

ADF Legal Counsel Caleb Dalton, one of the authors of the letter, told Alliance Defending Freedom that the First Amendment “protects speech regardless of whether it is casual or newsworthy” and is “the only permission slip any student needs to engage in expression.”

“Alabama’s current policy gives free reign to university officials to restrict speech based on these unconstitutional categories, so we challenge them to make clear, prior to the game on Saturday, that they will take a look at the errors in their policy,” he added.

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The letter argues that Alabama’s policies go far beyond the “reasonable ‘time, place, and manner’ restrictions” allowed under the First Amendment, pointing to an array of restrictions that the authors argue are unconstitutional.

“Alabama’s policies are not reasonable or content and viewpoint neutral, because they examine whether expression is related to recent national news events, prohibit anonymous speech because they require a GUP and agreement, and prohibit spontaneous speech because they require...advance approval,” the letter asserts, adding that the school’s policies also grant “unbridled discretion to administrators who may approve or disapprove of the speech based on its content or viewpoint.”

“Each of these restrictions and grants of discretion violates the First Amendment,” the document argues.

The authors conclude by encouraging the university review its policies and “correct them to comply with the First Amendment before the big game,” warning that failure to respond by Oct. 30 will force them “to consider ‘other than casual’ relief from the court system.”

“Today’s college students are tomorrow’s judges, legislators, teachers, and voters. The lessons they are learning about the First Amendment will impact our future,” noted Casey Mattox, director of the ADF Center for Academic Freedom. “As a lifelong Bama fan, I hope that the university will agree that these future leaders of our state and nation should no longer be taught that they must seek the government’s permission to speak freely.”

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