The Young Americans for Liberty(YAL) along with attorneys from the Alliance Defending Freedom(ADF) have filed a lawsuit against the University of Massachusetts Amherst after a new speech policy was implemented that severely restricts where and when students may hold a speech or rally. The lawsuit targeting the new policy contends that it is too broad and restrictive and encourages abuse by administrators and staff at the university.
The new policy states “outdoor speeches and rallies may be held only on the west side of the student union building and shall be limited to one hour in length, from noon to 1:00 P.M.” The new policy also does not clearly define a speech or rally which allows administrators of the institution to implement this broadly at their discretion creating a high potential for abuse.
The University of Massachusetts Amherst Student Life Office claims in its mission statement that their goal is to “create a positive, inclusive, and challenging work environment that encourage self-motivation and fosters leadership development and life skills.” While the actual policy they wrote runs counter to this notion, the lawsuit it has brought about does all of these things.
ADF legal counsel Caleb Dalton said, “A public university is hardly a marketplace of ideas that it’s supposed to be when the marketplace is less than one percent of campus and only open for one hour a day-and then only if university officials approve your presence there. UMass Amherst’s speech policy contains provisions to those that courts have repeatedly struck down as unconstitutional at other schools.” The ADF considers the recent actions of the university a clear violation of the First Amendment and understands that legal precedent supports their claim.
The university allows student groups to reserve space for speeches and rallies, however, the lawsuit states, “…individual students do not qualify to reserve space on campus; thus, the only option for an individual student to give a speech or to rally is during the limited time permitted in the small speech zone.” Because universities do not allow certain student groups to form, such as White student unions (although there are Black and Hispanic student unions), many students are left without an outlet or means to reserve a forum through the university.
The penalties can be steep for students who violate the new “land use” policy that restricts the freedom of expression of students on campus. The lawsuit states, “If a student engages in expression anywhere else on campus during any other time and the university deems it to be a ‘speech’ or a ‘rally’ the student faces sanctions up to and including expulsion.” Administrators under the policy are granted the power to subjectively decide what messages they would like to censor and how severely the messenger will be punished for their “transgressions.”
The University of Massachusetts is not the first university in the country to abuse its power in an effort to squash dissenting opinions on campus. Political activist Richard Spencer is suing the University of Cincinnati after they demanded an exorbitant “unconstitutional security fee” according to the lawsuit. Cameron Padgett filed the lawsuit when the university notified them it would charge an additional $10,833 on to of the $500 rental fee to secure the forum requested.
Padgett’s attorney, Kyle Bristow said, “By charging event organizers fees based upon the reaction of the violent liberal mob, de facto censorship can and will result due to security costs being imposed which are often cost-prohibitive for such politically right-of-center events to occur.” These security costs vindicate the violent savages disrupting events and amount to what is effectively a heckler’s veto, which is unconstitutional.
Bristow has an extensive background in this arena and is currently suing multiple universities for free speech violations including Michigan State University, Ohio State University, and Pennsylvania State University. Bristow has successfully sued Auburn University and has levied threats of a lawsuit against the University of Michigan.
The lawsuit filed against the University of Massachusetts has a clear motivation stating, the “Plaintiffs bring this action to vindicate their rights under the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution.” Right-wing events are almost exclusively discriminated against in American universities and without these lawsuits, liberal administrators will continue to craft and implement policies that prohibit dissenting voices from being heard.