Campus Free Speech

Challenge to Ban on "Literature with Offensive Content" at Northeast Wisconsin Technical College

The policy -- here, applied to someone passing out religious valentines -- also bans "signs ... with offensive content," and more generally limits even nonoffensive signs and leafleting to a narrow "free speech zone."

|The Volokh Conspiracy |

Richard Esenberg, Tom Kamenick and Clyde Taylor at the Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty have just filed a lawsuit challenging the policy; you can read the Complaint, which lays out the facts and some of the Institute's legal arguments.

The ban on "offensive" speech is clearly unconstitutionally vague and likely viewpoint-based; and, even setting that aside, the rule limiting leafletting to a narrow zone would be unconstitutional even if it were content-neutral. A university does have power to limit speech that is loud enough to cause a disruption, or to limit large demonstrations that can block pedestrian traffic; that is particularly so within university buildings. But the policy here is much broader than that.

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  1. FYI, the policy is dated from May 2010, so apparently no one has complained (too much anyway) until now.

    It does need to be changed though to better adhere to constitutional requirements.

    1. Hi apedad, counsel for plaintiffs here. Our client has had issues with this policy and administration going back years. They’ve been promising to update the policy since at least 2014. Polly got sick of waiting.

      1. Banning stuff because it is offensive and disruptive needs to be fought tooth and nail wherever it appears. The next step in the slippery slope is countries like Egypt which some time back banned CNN because it was disruptive to the population, who needed government to filter the news for them.

        It never feels like dictatorship if you’re the ones in charge.

  2. “religious valentines” are offensive?

    Liberals hate Christians.

    1. Liberals hate Christians.

      Conservatives hate Muslims, Jews (except as roleplayers in a delusion, after which they are immediately to be sent straight to hell), Buddhists, agnostics, Hindus, atheists, Sikhs, blacks (especially the uppity ones), women (especially the uppity ones), Hispanics, and plenty of others.

      Where is the hope?

      1. I am a Christian. I don’t hate Muslims, Jews, Buddhists, agnostics, Hindus, atheists, Sikhs, blacks (even the uppity ones), or women (even the uppity ones). I am certain I could say the same thing about most Christians I know (that they don’t hate these classes of people).

        I am a bit of a curmudgeon, so I dislike some individuals, though not based on superficial characteristics or on broad classes (such as those listed above).

        Hatred is reserved for particularly vile people, such as despots and people who drive slow in the fast lane.

      2. I hate Kirkland.

  3. “NWTC recognizes and supports the right of public assembly and expression.”

    I love how such policies always start with a similar sentence, followed by pages listing how students’ rights to public assembly and expression are constrained or denied.

    1. The Soviet Union had a guarantee of freedom of speech written into their laws. They loved to point to that (among other things) as a reason why US claims of being a bastion of freedom and communism being anti-freedom were nonsense.

      But every Soviet subject knew that if they ever exercised that right in a way that could be even remotely construed to be anti-Party or anti-State, that they would disappear mysteriously shortly thereafter, never to be seen or heard from again.

      What does it say about a place like a college, ostensibly a bastion of knowledge and the free dissemination of ideas, that they have to have all those pages of restrictions on their statement of recognition?

      1. College officials are better than the Russians — those they disappear from campus happens during the day.

        It occurs to me college campuses are like the Salem witch trials, with ladies lifting the back of their wrists to their swooning foreheads and jerking psychotically at the effect on their minds of the evil talkative witch.

        “He turned my mind into a newt!”

        1. Well, he turned me back….

  4. In addition to speech claims, I would also have made religion and discrimination claims.

    After all, some people also feel that walking while black is offensive. But the campus security force doesn’t (openly) stop black people and (openly) use this reason as the basis for stopping them. Treating her differently is discriminating on the basis of religion. I’d also make establishment and free exercise claims.

  5. It may be a matter of local custom, but I don’t like complaints that double as legal briefs. (I’ve seen federal judges strike those as violative of Fed. R. Civ. P. 8.) Complaints are for facts and requests for relief, not for case citations.

    On the merits, of course, if the facts are remotely as pleaded then this ought to be a slam dunk for the plaintiff.

  6. Yup. The state can’t ban speech, even on campus. The proper response to offensive speech is more speech. Unless, of course, the speakers are Nazis or Socialists, in which case they should be punched and removed from campus. There’s no need to tolerate crap like that.

    1. When hate speech is defined as ‘any speech I do not like’, then anyone can and will be punched and removed from campus. If it’s legal to do to Nazis, then it’s equally legal to do to Black Lives Matter.

    2. I’m surprised that Antifa haven’t been taking out their ire on the fascists running/teaching at many colleges and universities.

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