Campus Free Speech

To Stop Spread of Hateful Messages, Iowa State University Restricted Sidewalk Chalk

The policy has earned a well-deserved First Amendment lawsuit.


Iowa's critically important Democratic presidential caucus is just weeks away, but students at Iowa State University (ISU) are facing serious restrictions on their ability to advocate for and against various candidates and policies due to an absurd and possibly unconstitutional ban on offensive sidewalk chalking.

The policy, implemented in November, states that only registered student organizations may write chalk messages on campus sidewalks. These messages may not editorialize: They can only advertise upcoming events, citing names, locations, and other logistical details. And they can only be seven words long.

ISU President Wendy Wintersteen did not immediately respond to a request for comment, but told Inside Higher Ed that the school "fully embraces its role as a First Amendment campus and is deeply committed to constitutional protections of free expression." Nevertheless, she claims the policy is a necessary effort to combat the spread of hateful and bigoted chalk messages that have appeared on sidewalks and perturbed some students.

Not all students agree. The university's College Republicans oppose the policy, arguing that it restricts political messaging.

The College Democrats, on the other hand, were disappointed to lose the ability to promote their candidates via chalking, but said that "if restricting [chalking] can reduce incidents of hate-filled messages on campus, the organization would prefer students feel safe," according to Inside Higher Ed.

"Making sure our campus is a safe and welcoming place for all, but particularly for people of marginalized identities, is extremely important to the ISU College Democrats," said the group in a statement. "We welcomed the temporary chalking policy as an immediate solution to stop the hateful, racist, neo-Nazi, transphobic, homophobic and anti-Semitic messages that were overwhelming our campus this past fall…Iowa State does not have a free speech problem—we have a white supremacist problem."

The policy was introduced following incidents of racist and transphobic chalkings on campus. A student activist group, ISU Students Against Racism, demanded zero tolerance for anyone caught writing such statements.

Seeing hateful messages is no doubt unpleasant, but Iowa State is a public university and its desire to suppress hateful speech does not supersede students' First Amendment right to express political speech on campus. The policy has thus earned a well-deserved legal challenge from Speech First, a legal advocacy group that defends free speech and due process on campuses.

"Iowa State University and its officials have created a series of rules and regulations that restrain, deter, suppress, and punish speech about the political and social issues of the day," wrote Speech First lawyers in a preliminary injunction that seeks to halt the policy.

The Speech First lawsuit also objects to ISU's bias incident reporting system, as well as a little known policy that prohibits the use of university email addresses for political causes. The latter of these is rarely, if ever, enforced, according to the administration.

The chalking policy, though, is a significant restriction on campus free speech at a particularly pivotal moment for political expression. The university should move swiftly to repeal this egregious restriction.

NEXT: Nikki Haley, Marco Rubio, and Lindsey Graham Try to War-Demagogue Like It's 2004

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    1. This article confuses hateful speech and hate speech. Hateful speech is speech you hate. White supremacists may hate rhetoric advocating equality.
      Hate speech is totally different; it is collective libel, far for serious and far-reaching than the crime of individual libel. Hate speech is not speech you hate but rather rhetoric that promotes, encourages, or incites discrimination, harm to the rights of others, and/or violence.

      And example, one which many may in fact love: when Trump began his campaign with the Nazi- style Big lie about Mexico sending criminals and rapists (Mexico does not send immigrants and undocumented immigrants have a 50% lower crime rate than US citizens) , if you were a landlord who believed Trump’s lies, you would refuse to rent to someone you perceived to be “Mexican.”

      Hate speech is the enemy of human freedom, the prelude to hate crimes, and the precursor and justification for genocide, whether in the early US (natives were savages, blacks sub-human, etc), Nazi Germany, or Rwanda. Hate speech is the poison in the well of human rights.
      Tolerance of tolerance, historically, has not promoted freedom but to the destruction of human rights…for Jews, for Muslims, for blacks, for immigrants. Tolerating intolerance is complicity.

      And if you claim that letting speech that promotes harm to the rights of others is protected speech, I would ask: would you, in the 30’s in Germany, have defending the right of Hitler to demonize and dehumanze Jews, leftists, and others?

      1. I would ask: would you, in the 30’s in Germany, have defending the right of Hitler to demonize and dehumanze Jews, leftists, and others?

        In your opinion, is that the worst thing Hitler ever did?

        1. Did he take action against any criminal “satirists”? If so, he did a service to humanity. Here at NYU, we believe there is no place for such elements in American society or anywhere else in the world. This is why we have jails, law enforcement agencies and numerous policies, academic and otherwise, designed to establish an atmosphere of appropriate civility both on campus and in the surrounding urban areas. See the documentation of our nation’s leading criminal “parody” case at:

      2. The good little tyrant, talking about human freedom…

        Someday I hope you get to live in one of your government created utopias.

        1. I’d be ok with someone hate speeching him to death

      3. Someone or some group would need to determine what was good hate or bad hate.
        That’s not freedom of speech/press, that’s censorship.

      4. Uh, yes. What I would not defend is organizing violent mobs to back up his political movement. Plenty of people demonize and libel Jews, leftists and others. Only one was Hitler.

        I don’t think that there is no such thing as hate speech. But free speech means what it says.

      5. So you don’t support freedom of speech – you believe that people in Washington can be trusted to decide what you can and can not talk about. What you can and can not listen to. What you can and can not read. What you can and can not watch.

      6. No, Trump said Mexico was “not sending their best”, and that some of the migrants were rapists, which is verifiably true, especially since a huge % of migrant women are sexually assaulted while trying to reach the border.

        And immigrants don’t have a 50% lower crime rate than US citizens – that’s a statistical trick based on the fact that on average, migrants have spent far less time in the United States than US citizens have.

  1. Wintersteen “fully embraces [ISU’s] role as a First Amendment campus and is deeply committed to constitutional protections of free expression” unless perturbation-by-chalk occurs lol.

  2. The university should move swiftly to repeal this egregious restriction.

    Is freedom to graffiti really so egregious?

    1. If it only applies to certain graffiti done by certain people, it’s somewhat egregious.
      Maybe they should just ban all chalkings. I’m pretty sure they still have message boards and kiosks and shit.

      1. Yeah, it seems like the only two options are ban entirely based on property defacement, or you have to let your freak flag fly. On the concrete!

        I say let er rip!

        1. Those aren’t the only two options.

          Soave is framing this as ‘everyone writes what they want’ or ‘tyranny’.

          But I can’t take a piece of chalk and write obscenities on the sidewalk anywhere else – that would be considered graffiti. Nor can I write an advertisement there.

          I can see the argument he’s making about free speech on public property – I just don’t see him extending that argument to the rest of public property. Tagging the courthouse, intersections, roadways, street signs, etc.

  3. Maybe people need to learn to ignore real life trolls like they should for online trolls. I’m 99.9% sure that all of the racist/whatever chalkings are either false flags or people just looking to get exactly the reaction they are getting.

    1. You can’t stop.

      1. I never said it was easy.

        1. Fair enough.

          And your advice isn’t bad.

          However, you should probably admit, that when put into practice, it isn’t %100 effective.

          1. What is 100% effective?

            1. Hate speech

    2. Back in middle school several decades ago, teenage boys, typically skaters, used to carve swastikas into the sides of dumpsters around town and in various public bathrooms. Metalheads would do the same with shit like “Hail Satan” and “666”. Not only did people not freak out about this, but it was generally ignored until the dumpsters were repainted.

      They didn’t do this because they were white supremacists or devil-worshippers, they did it because we lived in a white-bread suburban community and they were trying to get a rise out of the bourgeois townies. The absolute best way to get people you detest in a lather is pimp the things you think will get them mad. Edgelords are just doing this nowadays with “bigoted” speech.

    3. Spend some fun time chatting with ao ficken girls

  4. I trust the free speech implications of sidewalk chalking are merely the usual content-based censoring rather than the more extremely broad insistence that one has a right to write on sidewalks. If the college were to ban sidewalk chalking altogether as vandalism or defacing of public property I’d think would be okay, banning only certain messages is not.

  5. Restricting campus speech to those messages that do not offend the most sensitive students is like requiring only G-rated movies at the student union.

    1. Those are too spicy.

      Only ‘All Audiences’.

  6. Just don’t use chalk.

    That fake snow spray washes off pretty easily.

    And it’ll make the TRUMP -PENCE 2020 logos look that much more festive.

  7. Solution: use white chalk. Probably the only instance in academia where White is Right.

    Of course, black or red or brown chalk would be cultural appropriation, and yellow chalk would be forbidden due to affirmative action quotas.

    1. Hi SQRLSY.

    2. Or get around the whole chalk issue with charcoal.

  8. These college students and faculty/administrators wouldn’t know free speech if it bit them on the @$$.

  9. The policy was introduced following incidents of racist and transphobic chalkings on campus.


    1. Racist: All Lives Matter It’s OK to Be White

      Transphobic: Gender is Binary

      My apologies for the violent examples. Although I suspect we’re not woke enough to fear the violence in more subtle, seemingly neutral, yet unsafe chalkings.

  10. “The policy, implemented in November, states that only registered student organizations may write chalk messages on campus sidewalks.”

    So, certain, authorized GROUPS have this right, but not individuals. Interesting concept.

    1. Care to take a wild guess at what kind of politics one has to have in order to get authorized?

      1. Yeah, but I figured it was so obvious a “thing” that I didn’t bother to mention it. But thanks for completing my unwritten thought. just in case…

  11. Iowa State does not have a free speech problem—we have a white supremacist problem.

    Chalking when and where your local city councilmen will be giving a lecture on campus in 8 words? Verboten.

    Publicly stating that your University’s campus is saturated with white supremacists? Protected free speech.

  12. No one needs military-style assault chalk!

    1. The Founders couldn’t have possibly have known that chalkings would happen when they wrote 1A. It’s only for those pens made from feathers.

  13. I went to ISU in the late 80s. I don’t remember much chalking, like it wasn’t a thing. But then again, there’s quite a lot I don’t remember.

    However, unfortunately I remember voting for Jesse Jackson in the one Iowa caucus I participated in at ISU. I didn’t actually want to vote for him. But there is a ton of wrangling and pressure at those things. I of course went to the table of some dude no one else voted for. After a while, they eliminate and combine groups and the Jesse people needed one or two people so I went to their table. It was exhausting and I just wanted a beer.

    1. what’s with the bird in the tornado? ~~love, KSU

      1. Hey farmbro! I dig the bird in the tornado. That’s much better than the more recent cyclone image that looks like a vertical bugle snack chip.

        1. rippin’ off Lousiville lol.

  14. Watch where you chalk with the sidewalk chalk
    And you can’t keep a secret from the ground beneath you
    Step very lightly on the earth below
    Or before you know it, everyone will know
    Streets were paved with a thousand eyes
    And try as you may, you can’t disguise
    There’s only two things that you can’t hide from
    That’s you and the ground you’re walking on

    Watch where you chalk with the sidewalk chalk
    You better watch what you do, what you do
    ‘Cause the sidewalk chalk can get carried away
    You better watch what you say, what you say


    1. Jellybean didn’t need Madonna

  15. Good for the College Republicans for standing up for free speech.
    Shame on the College Democrats for not doing the same.

    The solution to so-called “hate speech” is not censorship but education. So it is ironic that the proposed “solution” to “hate speech” at an institution of higher education is an attempt at censorship.

  16. It won’t last long once they find out spray paint doesn’t wash off.

  17. Isn’t this kind of like fighting obesity by banning spoons?
    If they really want to stop hate speech, they should start by banning keyboards.

  18. I attend Iowa State. The so-called “epidemic” of hateful messages has been completely overblown by the media. I’m all over campus every day, and the bulk of what people were getting upset over were Trump 2020 chalkings and pro-life messages. The way the media has been reporting on it, you would think the campus is awash in swastikas and racial epithets. It’s not.

    This policy has been the latest laugh from the joke of the administration here, and I hope that this lawsuit puts them in their place.

    1. Same shit happened at Emory in 2016

    2. When Trump 2020 is considered “Hate Speech”, that is the biggest reason we do no have hate speech laws

    3. Doesn’t help that you have a fruit loop like Javier Miranda playing “Grievance Violation Bingo”.

  19. “Iowa State does not have a free speech problem—we have a white supremacist problem.”

    Because white supremacists don’t have 1st Amendment rights, apparently. And the Democrats get to choose who’s a white supremacist, of course.

  20. Purely a blatant and amateur attempt to suppress speech from the right. Otherwise, the university could simply ban all chalking as an attempt ‘to keep the campus clean, neat and orderly’. Such may have passed legal muster. But, as usual, the libs simply panicked and knee-jerked at the first sign of disenchantment with their orthodoxy.

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