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University of Maryland sued over free-speech zones

By The Associated Press
03.07.03

GREENBELT, Md. — The University of Maryland's policy of limiting public speakers and leafleting to two specific campus locations violates the right of its students to free expression, according to a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union.

The college says the "free-speech zones" are a way to reduce litter and preserve order. But some students claim the restrictions squelch free speech.

"When you come to college, you want to hear other viewpoints," said plaintiff Dan Sinclair, a junior from Baltimore. "I was expecting to hear free and impassioned debate, I expected to have the campus buzzing."

The suit, filed yesterday in U.S. District Court in Greenbelt, is the latest challenge to free-speech zones at colleges across the country.

West Virginia abolished its zones last year after students were barred from handing out anti-sweatshop leaflets outside a campus corporate recruiting event. Zones at the University of Texas and New Mexico State University have also been dropped because of similar challenges.

University spokesman George Cathcart says the school believes its policies are fair.

"We're not aware of anyone who feels that their ability to speak out on campus has been impaired by our policies," Cathcart said.

Maryland's policy, which has been in effect for decades, limits public speaking to the Nyumburu Amphitheater stage. Leafleting is limited to the sidewalks outside Stamp Student Union. Both require reservations, the lawsuit states.

The ACLU has tried for several years without success to get the university to change its policy, said David Rocah, an attorney with the group.

"There is no legitimate justification for rules like this," Rocah said.


Update
University of Maryland expands free-speech policy
Students, staff and faculty will be able to leaflet, hold demonstrations of 10 or fewer at any outdoor spot on campus without advance registration. 08.01.03

Related

New Mexico State adopts revised free-speech policy

University changed guidelines after two graduate students challenged restrictions on leafleting. 03.26.01

Student, anti-abortion group sue Texas college
Lawsuit claims University of Houston violated students' First Amendment rights by restricting location of graphic display. 02.05.02

West Virginia University adopts watered-down free-speech rules
But divided Board of Governors eliminates requirement that large groups gather in designated campus protest zones. 11.11.02

Iowa State students applaud expanded free-speech zones
But one student leader says parts of policy that restrict size of groups, proximity to buildings still limit speech. 11.21.02

Texas students sue university over free-speech rules
Lawsuit claims policy requiring students to get permits for speeches, deliver them in designated areas violates the First Amendment. 03.10.03

Group challenges Pennsylvania college's speech codes
Foundation for Individual Rights in Education says lawsuit against Shippensburg University is first of many it plans to file across the country. 04.24.03

Campus abolishes its free-speech zone
Western Illinois University rescinds policy after silent protest by about 30 students, faculty. 05.09.03

Political correctness squelching campus speech, group says
Watchdog organization FIRE tells Senate committee that efforts to promote diversity, sensitivity are restricting intellectual discourse. 10.30.03

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