Campus Free Speech

Judge Says Iowa State Wrong on All Counts in Free Speech Case


Iowa State University
Wikimedia Commons

The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education is celebrating a clean victory over Iowa State University after a U.S. district court judge rejected all of the university's arguments in an important decision about whether a free speech case could proceed.

ISU students Erin Furleigh and Paul Gerlich have sued the university for censorship. The two are leaders at the campus's chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws; administrators prohibited them from wearing T-shirts featuring the group's pro-legalization message as well as the university's logo.

ISU attempted to have the First Amendment lawsuit tossed out in court on the grounds that the case is a trademark dispute, not a free speech issue. University lawyers also claimed sovereign immunity, qualified immunity, and procedural due process, according to FIRE.

But Chief Judge James Gritzner held that these arguments were invalid and opted not to dismiss the case. Fire President Greg Lukianoff hailed the decision:

"We're very pleased with the court's decision to deny every part of ISU's motion to dismiss," said FIRE President Greg Lukianoff. "FIRE looks forward to a successful outcome that affirms ISU students' right to freely advocate for their beliefs."

Last summer, FIRE opted to take a more pro-active role in pressuring universities to comply with the Constitution and protect their students' rights. Together with the law firm of Davis Wright Tremaine, FIRE has brought suits against several colleges, winning $210,000 in fees and damages, according to the organization.

The ISU case is as clear-cut an example of campus censorship as they come; the right to form political clubs, advocate for policies, and display materials promoting those policies is fundamental to a free society. Such activity should be welcomed at an institution ostensibly designed to educate students about topics like civic participation, post-Enlightenment discourse, and modern politics—not prohibited.

Thankfully, Gritzner has allowed Furleigh and Gerlich to sue ISU President Steven Leath personally. Censorship-inclined bureaucrats must be brought to justice.

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  1. …”Such activity should be welcomed at an institution ostensibly designed to educate students”…

    There’s the prob lem, right there!

  2. It would be nice to see a University bureaucrat have to turn over his pension as a setlement.

    1. I’d settle for fired. Can you sue to have someone removed instead of for money? Out of court settlement? I’ll drop the case if you fire those responsible for violating my rights?

    2. Hold them personally liable for rights violations committed under the guise of their employment? That’s crazy talk. Just crazy enough to work…

  3. Hmmm…that young man’s red shirt seems to mix the NORML and university logos……..ath-et-al/

    1. Oh, I see, the trademark guidelines ban the advocacy of “unhealthy” behavior, etc., so there’s a viewpoint discrimination issue.…..ath-et-al/

      1. My outrage meter is pegged at 0. Why should the Univ. be required to provide fair use of their trademark for an organization that holds a position with which they disagree? They gave the student group a charter, the group accepts funds (I assume) from the university, and the univ. freely permits the group to organize and promote their position on campus. The university does not want the perception that they support the position of the group and don’t want their logo associated with the group. They created rules within the charter that give them the authority to reject the use of their logo in the group’s promotional material and T-shirts. Tough shit, Norml ISU. Go promote your position outside of the university’s student group charter. I don’t understand FIRE’s concert with this particular issue.

        1. hy should the Univ. be required to provide fair use of their trademark for an organization that holds a position with which they disagree?

          Because it’s a government school. It’s a government logo. Would you claim I couldn’t walk around in a T-shirt with a pro MJ logo in combination with an American flag? Because that’s EXACTLY what you are saying.

          That school IS the government and any logo associated with it belongs to the people. The government doesn’t have the power to deny anyone the right of free speech NOR can they Trademark a product on my dime and tell me when and where I can use it.

          1. The school is the government and the government is us, ergo, we are the school. And the money made by the sale of football jerseys with the logo on it is our money. Where’s my cut? That’s EXACTLY what you’re saying.

            Make a T-shirt that says ISU 4 NAMBLA. Does ISU not have the right to protect its image?

            It’s not a 1A issue. What and whose speech is being infringed here?

            1. No the government isn’t us.

              The government serves us. Government has powers, delegated by the people. People have rights. The government has no rights and therefore they have no image to protect.

              The government doesn’t have the power to trademark shit and make money from it. That is a right belonging to the people (but we might argue if it should be). The government doesn’t have the power to tell me what to wear. I have the right to petition my government, provided I do so peacefully. It is ABSOLUTELY a 1A issue.

              Iowa STATE University, can fuck right the hell off.

              1. There’s a problem here. All the big public universities have trademarks on their logos. They do licensing deals. They make big money on this.

                So, that’s the reality. We may think a public institution shouldn’t be able to do that, but that doesn’t change reality.

                What this decision seems to be saying is that there can be a court-defined difference in how trademark law is interpreted and implemented based on who the holder is. I find that interesting.

    2. My thoughts also. IMNAL and I don’t know the details of the case or the specific actions of university officials that brought rise to the lawsuit, but I would think that the university has standing for claims of trademark infringement. I would think they would have the ability to prevent use of their logo for promotion of issues with which they disagree. That would not be a 1A issue. There has to be more to the case than simply the T-shirts.


        According to the lawsuit, the ISU Trademark Licensing Office in 2012 approved a T-shirt design submitted by the students that included their group’s name, the Iowa State mascot, and an image of a cannabis leaf.

        A few weeks later, however, the Des Moines Register ran a photo of the then-NORML ISU president wearing one of the shirts, and that picture drew criticism. Madden and Hill, according to the lawsuit, called a meeting with the group and rescinded approval of the T-shirt design, saying it suggested ISU supports marijuana legalization.

        And, two months later, the university’s Trademark Licensing Office revised its guidelines to restrict designs using ISU marks that promote dangerous, illegal, or unhealthy products, according to the lawsuit.

        ISU approved the tee shirts, then had an Oh-Shit moment.

        A lawsuit accusing Iowa State University administrators, including President Steven Leath, of censoring a pro-marijuana student group’s right to free speech will proceed in district court, a judge ruled this week.

        The key issue has not gone to trial yet.

        1. 1. Low level lackey in a large organization makes decisions which are later reversed by higher-ups.
          2. Administration makes changes to policy for clarification and to prevent re-occurrence.
          3. OUTRAGE!

          1. 1. Low level lackey

            fact not in evidence.

            This matter is going to trial. It has not been decided yet.

            I assume the gist of the lawsuit is that ISU changed its rules specifically to squash a particular kind of political speech. I also assume that the plaintiff will present lots of evidence that other student groups continue to produce stuff that uses the ISU logo and violates the new rules, but the university looks the other way. So therefore, the new rules and the application of those rules are unconstitutional. I further assume the university will argue otherwise.

            The matter will be decided by a collection of jurors who were not smart enough to get out of jury duty. So I am sure they will come up the right answer.

            1. 1. Low level lackey

              fact not in evidence.

              Non-relevant qualifer used for rhetorical effect (or affect, I never understood the difference)

              I don’t see that any political speech was squashed. ISU just doesn’t want their logo on NORML’s t-shirts. ISU has done nothing to prevent NORML from expressing their viewpoint.

              1. You seem to think that I am arguing in favor of NORML here.

                I don’t know the details of the case

                I was just trying to give you some of the details so your comments might have some actual fucking relevance to the topic.

                1. I actually had gone and skimmed the brief supplied by Notorious G.K.C., but thanks for including your cut-and-paste job here with added bold font that implies your position on the matter.

                  Shit, you’re a bit prissy. While I have said nothing to impune your good character, if you’re concerned that I am misinterpreting your stance why don’t you come out and give it? I would assume that you have one if you’re bothering to post here. You’re not doing it simply for my edification, are you?

                  1. Shit, you’re a bit prissy

                    I don’t recognize your handle, so either you recently changed it or you’re new hear.

                    We really don’t need more people come around and say “I don’t know the details of the case, but I’m going to comment anyway”.

                    I bolded that the parts of the story that directly contradict your unfounded assumption that this is merely a trademark issue.

                    When a government agency, like a university, changes a policy in way that directly prohibits speech that it had previously approved, it is openly inviting a lawsuit. The problem is that even legitimate policy that is implemented for the “wrong” reason can be found to be unconstitutional.

                    It is very straightforward that the university can control the way its trademarks are used. But that is not what this is about. This is about whether or not the university is using its legitimate trademark authority specifically to squash one particular set of political speech. And the judge said the plaintiffs provided enough evidence of wrong-doing on the part of the university for the lawsuit to go forward.

                    The U may very well win, but the lawsuit is absolutely valid.

  4. I think these cases are going to be all the more common as the progressives promote the dual myths of college for all and college is for broadening your horizons.

    College for all raises the stakes, and statists can’t help but salivate over the glut of “open minded” adolescents ready to have their horizons stretched in exactly the right ways.

    Folks that believe that 1) college is optional, 2) college is for career training, and 3) college is a place for the exchange of differing ideas are a threat to the utopian echo chamber that the progs drool about.

  5. Google pay 97$ per hour my last pay check was $8500 working 1o hours a week online. My younger brother friend has been averaging 12k for months now and he works about 22 hours a week. I cant believe how easy it was once I tried it out.
    This is wha- I do…… ??????

  6. Separation of school and state.

    Problem solved, your welcome.

  7. I went to Iowa State in the late 80s. We just smoked pot in our dorm rooms and burnt toast in our illegal toasters to help cover the smell.

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