Students Fight for Their First Amendment Rights at Colorado State University

April 11, 2007

FORT COLLINS, Colorado, April 11, 2007—Students at Colorado State University (CSU) are holding a rally today to celebrate their university’s clarification of a restrictive free speech zone policy. This rally comes after concerned students, with help from the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), successfully pressured the university to make clear that free speech is the norm, rather than an exception, on campus. Unfortunately, CSU’s embrace of free speech is only partial, since the public university still maintains other policies that prohibit constitutionally protected speech.
“FIRE is pleased that CSU acted so quickly to clarify one of its main policies regarding free speech on campus,” FIRE Director of Legal and Public Advocacy Samantha Harris said. “There are still policies that need revision, but CSU’s reaction shows that a group of informed, dedicated students can effect serious change on a university campus.”
In February, concerned CSU students requested help from FIRE in contesting three unconstitutional policies that restricted students’ expression and assembly on campus. On March 12, FIRE wrote a letter to CSU President Larry E. Penley urging him to change the policies.
The ‘Peaceful Assembly at CSU’ policy designated just one area—Lory Student Center Plaza—as the “‘Public Forum’ space” at the university and required students to reserve the space two weeks in advance of any planned event. CSU General Counsel Loretta Martinez responded to FIRE’s concerns on March 28 by clarifying that the Peaceful Assembly policy designates Lory Student Center Plaza as the primary public forum space, because it is the most centrally located and popular spot on campus, but that CSU maintains “numerous locations” on- and off-campus “where students may and have in the past spoken and protested freely.” Martinez admitted in her response to FIRE that the Lory Student Center webpage displayed an outdated version of the Peaceful Assembly policy. That version did not state that assembly was allowed outside the designated zone, leading to widespread confusion among students about what was permissible on campus. Martinez assured FIRE that an updated version of the policy is now posted, and that spontaneous protest is indeed allowed across the CSU campus.
In response to the university’s affirmation of the right to free assembly, members of CSU’s Campus Libertarians are planning to hold an unregistered free speech rally today at 2:00 pm on the West Lawn of the Lory Student Center—an area outside the designated “primary ‘Public Forum’ space.” Graduate student Seth Anthony, speaking for the Libertarians, told FIRE that the goals of the rally are to show “that students should never be afraid to peacefully express themselves or speak their consciences, and to send the message that CSU’s policies need to clearly and loudly reflect the university’s commitment to the free exchange of ideas.”
While CSU has taken a positive step by clarifying its Peaceful Assembly policy, the university stands by the other policies that FIRE opposed in its March 12 letter. The ‘Hate Incidents’ policy bans “expressions of hostility” in CSU residence halls, and the ‘Advertising’ policy forbids posters bearing “any reference to alcoholic beverages or drugs” in the residence halls. Administrators attempted to use the latter policy last year to prohibit the Campus Libertarians from posting fliers advocating for a Colorado drug reform ballot initiative because the fliers contained an image of a marijuana leaf.
“CSU is severely limiting speech in its residence halls, where dialogue among students should be at its freest,” FIRE’s Harris said. “This is entirely unacceptable at any institution that claims to value free speech, and is unconstitutional at a public university such as CSU.”
The Campus Libertarians promise to keep up the fight for full freedom of expression at CSU, and the student government, Associated Students of CSU, plans to introduce a resolution tonight at its 6:30 pm meeting demanding a review of CSU’s free speech policies.
FIRE is a nonprofit educational foundation that unites civil rights and civil liberties leaders, scholars, journalists, and public intellectuals from across the political and ideological spectrum on behalf of individual rights, due process, freedom of expression, academic freedom, and rights of conscience at our nation’s colleges and universities. FIRE’s efforts to preserve liberty universities across America can be viewed at www.thefire-dev.wp.eresources.ws.
CONTACT:
Samantha Harris, Director of Legal and Public Advocacy, FIRE: 215-717-3473; samantha@www.thefire-dev.wp.eresources.ws
Larry E. Penley, President, Colorado State University: 970-491-6211; presofc@lamar.colostate.edu

Schools: Colorado State University Cases: Colorado State University: Students Fight for Rights to Free Speech and Assembly