Alliance Defending Freedom attorneys representing a Young Americans for Liberty chapter and student member Joshua Greer have favorably settled their free speech lawsuit challenging the University of Alabama in Huntsville’s unlawful “speech zones,” securing a significant win for free speech.
The lawsuit, Young Americans for Liberty at University of Alabama in Huntsville v. St. John IV, challenged the University of Alabama in Huntsville’s policies that infringed upon students’ free speech rights by imposing a requirement to obtain a permit three business days in advance to speak on campus.
The lawsuit contested these policies, which directly violated Alabama’s FORUM Act which mandates that public colleges and universities respect students’ free speech rights on campus.
The student members of Young Americans for Liberty actively participate in vital policy debates concerning various topics, such as gun control, federalism, and more. However, they felt compelled to refrain from engaging in these discussions due to concerns about potentially violating the University’s restrictive speech policy. This policy imposed burdensome requirements, including confining speech on certain subjects to designated speech zones and mandating students to seek approval days in advance. Moreover, since the permits were subject to discretionary approval by university administrators, the concern arose that events and viewpoints could be selectively chosen and permitted on campus.
Alliance Defending Freedom attorneys argued that the University’s policies violated the Plaintiffs’ right to free speech under Article I, Section 4 of the Alabama Constitution, which states, “no law shall ever be passed to curtail or restrain the liberty of speech or of the press; and any person may speak, write, and publish his sentiments on all subjects, being responsible for the abuse of that liberty.”
They contended that fear of punishment for violating the University’s “prior approval requirement and speech zones provision” had prevented their clients from engaging in “expressive activities in the manner of their choosing even on property that the state legislature has declared to be open to students as a public forum.”
The settlement agreement reached between the involved parties led to the entry of a consent order by the Circuit Court of Madison County. According to the order, the case will be dismissed once the University revises its policy. The amended policy not only eliminates the existence of “speech zones” and the prior permission requirement but also removes provisions that previously granted administrators discretion to deny permission to speak based on the speaker’s viewpoint. These changes reflect a significant shift towards protecting and upholding free speech rights on campus.
ADF Senior Counsel Tyson Langhofer, director of the ADF Center for Academic Freedom, says college students have the freedom to share their beliefs anywhere on campus. “Alabama state law guarantees that all students at public universities can freely speak outdoors on campus grounds. We commend the University of Alabama in Huntsville for doing the right thing by amending its policy to respect students’ free speech rights,” Langhofer said.
Alliance Defending Freedom is an alliance-building, non-profit legal organization committed to protecting religious freedom, free speech, parental rights, marriage and family, and the sanctity of life.
Their international division, ADF International, engages at the highest levels of law and governance with offices in New York, New York (United Nations); Vienna, Austria; Brussels, Belgium; Geneva, Switzerland; Strasbourg, France; London, England and Mexico City, Mexico.
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