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San Francisco State removes free-speech-zone restrictions

A national free-speech group is patting San Francisco State University on the back for getting rid of its free-speech zones – restrictions on where rallies and demonstrations could take place on campus.

The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education reported that the university has quietly revised its policy on the "Use of Buildings and Grounds." The old policy said rallies and demonstrations had to take place in public forum areas, such as Student Union Plaza. Literature could only be passed out behind blue lines marked on the pavement in the Student Union Plaza.

Flickr photo by coolmikeol

In the revised policy, there are no designated free-speech zones. The university allows for "spontaneous events": "Spontaneous events occasioned by news or issues coming into public knowledge may be held on campus without advance permission so long as they adhere to all University policies and the restrictions."

And as far as pamphlets go: "Distribution of literature may occur in University outdoor areas as long as pedestrian traffic is not impeded."

Free-speech zones on college campuses have proven controversial in recent years.

One Florida community college student successfully fought against being restricted to a free-speech zone after she tried to distribute pamphlets about animal slaughterhouses outside the campus cafe in 2005.

According to a release from the Student Press Law Center, a college administrator e-mailed student Eliana Campos, telling her she couldn't pass out the literature in that location because, "Students would be eating animal products in front of you ... I feel this is a set up for conflict." The official wanted Campos and her slaughterhouse pamphlets relegated to a designated free-speech zone.

Campos fought the college on it, getting the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education involved, and administrators eventually caved. They also revised their free-speech zone policy.

In another case, a Marquette University philosophy professor demanded that a graduate student remove a Dave Barry quote from his door, saying the door wasn't part of a free-speech zone. The offending quote: "As Americans we must always remember that we all have a common enemy, an enemy that is dangerous, powerful, and relentless. I refer, of course, to the federal government."

And last fall at Tarrant County College in Fort Worth, Texas, students wanted to carry empty holsters on their hips to protest the college's ban on concealed handguns on campus. The protest was part of a movement among some groups advocating open carry on campus after the 2007 shooting at Virginia Tech University.

Initially, the college barred students from wearing the empty holsters and limited the protest to the front porch of the student center. The students filed suit against the college with the help of the American Civil Liberties Union, prompting the college to allow the protest to occur. Earlier this month, a federal judge ruled that the college violated the students' First Amendment rights, in part because of the free-speech-zone restriction.

Filed under: Higher Ed, Daily Report

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