Three students have filed a lawsuit against Dixie State University in Utah, arguing that administrators at the school have violated their free speech rights by not allowing the members of the student group Young Americans for Liberty to publicly post satirical fliers of President Barack Obama, former President George W. Bush, and Che Guevara.
The students also felt that an event planned by the group had been purposely designated to a small, less-traveled portion of the campus. The students are seeking damages and changes to rules they feel are arbitrary.
“I don’t think we have any other options,” said plaintiff William Jergins, a 24-year-old senior studying political science, economics and math. “Things like we did, kind of poking fun at public figures, I don’t think should be disallowed.”
The lawsuit comes as part of a nationwide series of lawsuits pertaining to freedom of speech among college campuses, writes Lindsay Whitehurst for Deseret News.
“The function of an education is the free exchange of ideas,” said Catherine Sevcenko, a lawyer with the group. “You got there to sort of have your ideas tested.”
The students who filed the lawsuit argue that the school requires its students to attain permission prior to posting anything on school grounds. While they had asked to post the images last October, the school denied their request, siting a school policy that does not allow mocking people.
Later that fall, the students received permission from four different administrators to create a “Free Speech Wall” filled with blank sheets of paper to allow students at the school the opportunity to express their thoughts and feelings. However, school officials told the group that the wall needed to be posted in a designated spot, which the students feel is in a lightly-traveled area.
The students went on to say that after a policeman stopped to watch the area for about 30 minutes, even fewer students felt comfortable enough to stop at the wall even after the declining a police presence.
“A true education demands that students be able to hear ideas different from their own,” said student-plaintiff William Jergins. “That is why respecting free speech on campus is so important and why we are standing up to get rid of Dixie State’s speech codes. By maintaining these codes, the Dixie State administration limits the ideas we hear, the thoughts we consider—and our learning experiences suffer because of it.”
The lawsuit states that the process used by officials to determine whether or not to approve an event is arbitrary. The students pointed to an example in which they were denied the ability to hold a water-gun fight despite another group receiving permission to do so.