Dixie State Changes Freedom Of Speech Policies After Lawsuit
Three Dixie State students were forbidden from posting satirical cartoons on campus that made fun of Cuban leader Che Guevara and U.S. Presidents Barack Obama and George W. Bush. Later, when they wanted to set up a “Free Speech Wall” made of blank paper for students to write on, they were told to put it in a designated zone, where students rarely visit.
They sued the school on grounds that its policies of prior approval and designated-free-speech zones were against the First Amendment.
The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, or FIRE, a non-profit group that advocates for freedom of speech on college campuses is funding the lawsuit.
FIRE’s associate director of litigation, Catherine Sevcenko, said the First Amendment right to free speech is essential in a university setting.
“The best way to get an education is to explore different ideas. Debate your professors, debate your fellow students and learn about different points of view," Sevcenko said. "And on Dixie State University, with the rules they had, that was impossible to do.”
On Monday, Dixie State President Richard Williams sent a school-wide email that acknowledged the importance of on-campus free speech. He said this needs to be balanced with “civility, respect and human dignity.”
Williams said until the school decides on a policy that does this, Dixie State will not enforce the ones currently in place.
Sevcenko said the university made an important first step by eliminating the unconstitutional policies.
“The next step is the bigger step, which is what policies are they going to put into place to replace the ones that they have now abolished, and our concern is to make sure that those policies conform to the First Amendment,” Sevcenko said.
Sevcenko said FIRE hopes this ends in a settlement, but if lawyers on both sides never reach an agreement, the case may go to trial.