United States District Judge Timothy S. Black has ruled that the University of Cincinnati’s free speech zone violates the First Amendment and cannot stand.
Prior to today’s court order, UC had required all “demonstrations, pickets, and rallies” to be held in a “Free Speech Area” that comprises just 0.1% of the university’s 137-acre West Campus. University policy further required that all expressive activity in the free speech zone be registered with the university a full ten working days in advance, threatening that “[a]nyone violating this policy may be charged with trespassing.”
The order prohibits UC from enforcing their policy and is considered a victory for students’ rights.
“Today, the University of Cincinnati was reminded that free speech on campus isn’t optional—it’s fundamental,” said FIRE Director of Legal and Public Advocacy Will Creeley.
UC’s speech code has been noted as blatantly unconstitutional for more than four years. FIRE first drew attention to the problem in December 2007, calling it ‘shameful’ that a public university would hold the threat of criminal prosecution over the heads of its students wished to exercise their constitutionally protected rights. Matters came to a head this February when the UC chapter of Young Americans for Liberty was denied permissions to gather signatures across campus regarding a statewide ‘right to work’ ballot initiative. In denying the application, UC told the YAL president, Christopher Morbitzer, that if they went ahead with their plans campus security would be alerted. YAL and Morbitzer filed suit later that month with the help of Ohio’s 1851 Center for Constitutional Law and the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education.
The latest victory is the latest in a long string for FIRE who have tackled similar free speech restrictions on campuses in Nevada, California, Georgia, Texas and West Virginia.
“Once again, a federal court has been forced to remind a public university of its constitutional obligation to uphold the free speech rights of its students,” FIRE President Greg Lukianoff said. “Ohioans should be pleased at the court’s decision but outraged that a public college was willing to waste taxpayer money defending a policy that was manifestly unconstitutional from the very start.”
FIRE is a non-profit education foundation focused on preserving liberty on campuses across America, with a focus on due process, freedom of expression and academic freedom.
The 1851 Center for Constitutional Law is a non-profit legal center dedicated to protecting Ohioans from government abuse of their constitutional rights.