AMES, Iowa (WHO-TV) – An Iowa public university is facing a lawsuit from a national free-speech group after implementing rules that affect email communication and side-walk art.
The national non-profit, Speech First, filed a lawsuit last Thursday in federal court claiming three Iowa State University policies violate students’ First Amendment rights.
These include a chalking ban, which limits the use of writing messages on university property to only university-recognized student groups; an email prohibition, which bans students on sending emails from a university account to solicit support for a candidate or ballot measure; and the establishment of a campus climate reporting system.
Speech First claims these policies hinder students’ participation and involvement in the political process.
“Political speech and political organizing is something that the founding founders felt very strongly about. That’s one of the reasons that we have the First Amendment is for political speech, and so I think by hindering that I think you really hinder the ability of students to be involved in the caucuses,” said Nicole Neily, President of Speech First.
Most groups relying on email to inform students on upcoming elections and ballot measures.
“The mass email system is really a method to get that message out there because everyone checks their email and so that’s the kind of information that we would put in there. Where to go to caucus, when to caucus, make sure they know the ins and outs of it, and so if we weren’t able to, they would have to search for it,” said ISU’s College Democrat Co-President Sehba Faheem.
The organization is representing three individual students who are recognized in the lawsuit as student a, b, and c. All three students are conservative and claim they are unable to express support for the Second Amendment, the reelection of President Trump, and support of Governor Reynolds under the current limitations.
But some students believe these limitations protect from the promotion of hate speech.
“I understand that there are reasons for wanting to limit this thing. If you are familiar with free speech law, you know there’s restrictions against incitement of hateful speech…so I can understand why a university would want to avoid particularly inflammatory language, and that chalking is hard to police,” said Peter Clark, president of Students for Yang.
The University released a statement in response to the lawsuit saying, “They do not punish individuals for their constitutionally protected rights to expression and that the campus will always be a place for a diversity of ideas..”
The non-profit free speech first says they have filed an injunction to temporarily bar those policies while the lawsuit is heard in court.