Judge rules on policy suppressing conservative views

By Bob Unruh

(Photo by Joe Kovacs)
(Photo by Joe Kovacs)

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An organization that started out protecting individual rights in America’s academic world, and now has expanded to call itself the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression, still is working on college misbehavior.

The organization has announced a victory in its fight with a California college.

There, Clovis Community College had imposed an unconstitutional speech code “that resulted in the suppression of conservative students’ viewpoints.”

And that was struck down by a federal judge, the FIRE reported.

A judge ruled for three students from a chapter of Young Americans for Freedom who wanted to criticize authoritarianism on campus.

They did this by putting up posters listing the death tolls from communist regimes, which the school ordered taken down.

Judge Jennifer Thurston said, however, that the First Amendment doesn’t allow administrators to regulate the content of student speech by claiming that once students post a flyer, it suddenly “becomes” the college’s speech.

The court warned “a government entity cannot avoid constitutional requirements merely by declaring it can do so.”

“The court told Clovis what we’ve been telling them all along: You can’t censor students just because you don’t like their message,” said FIRE attorney Jeff Zeman. “The fight isn’t over. We’ve defeated this unconstitutional policy, but we won’t stop until Clovis treats all student speech equally.”

The court order instructed the college to drop its speech code.

“We wanted to criticize authoritarian governments, but we had no idea that our own college would try to stop us,” said YAF-Clovis founder Alejandro Flores. “I’m glad we fought back, because all students should be able to speak out at college.”

The fight came out of plans by Flores and club members Daniel Florses and Juliette Colunga. They got permission to hang three flyers on bulletin boards, citing those death tolls.

Explained the FIRE: “Emails obtained via a public records request reveal that soon after the flyers went up, a Clovis administrator wrote that he would ‘gladly’ take the flyers down, following complaints about their content. The administrator also wrote that approving the flyers in the first place may have been a ‘mistake,’ and that Clovis instead should have censored them under a policy that states: ‘Posters with inappropriate or offense [sic] language or themes are not permitted and will not be approved.'”

Lori Bennett, Clovis president, then ordered them removed, and invented “a brand new rule” that insists flyers double as club announcements.

“If you need a reason, you can let them know that [we] agreed they aren’t club announcements,” Bennett wrote to Clovis staff.

Only Clovis does not have a policy on the books that requires flyers to be club announcements, the FIRE said.

The school used the same pretext in banning pro-life flyers, too.

The organization said, “Public colleges like Clovis are bound by the First Amendment, and it is unconstitutional to treat student groups differently based on their viewpoints. Clovis’ vague policy banning ‘inappropriate’ or ‘offense [sic]’ themes — terms that could apply to just about anything — puts protected expression in jeopardy by allowing administrators to arbitrarily decide which opinions are inappropriate or offensive and which deserve to be heard.”

FIRE took to the courts last month, seeking to not just end the censorship but hold college officials accountable.

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