Student group says U of Alabama outmatched by Tennessee’s free speech policy

Alliance Defending Freedom and Young America’s Foundation sent a letter to the University of Alabama Monday on behalf of a student group asking the school to review and correct its Facilities and Grounds Use Policy so that it no longer bans speech without a permit that isn’t “casual” or related to recent national news events in the minds of university administrators.

“It’s almost the Third Saturday in October. But while no one born since the advent of the iPhone can remember a Tennessee victory over Alabama on the gridiron, Tennessee’s free speech winning streak over Alabama is alive and well,” the letter begins. It challenges Alabama officials to agree to revise their policy to be at least as good as rival University of Tennessee, which has no such ban, prior to Saturday’s football match-up between the two schools.

“The First Amendment protects speech regardless of whether it is casual or newsworthy; therefore, the First Amendment is the only permission slip any student needs to engage in expression,” said ADF Legal Counsel Caleb Dalton. “Alabama’s current policy gives free reign to university officials to restrict speech based on these unconstitutional categories, so we challenge them to make clear, prior to the game on Saturday, that they will take a look at the errors in their policy. There’s no reason that Alabama students should have less freedom than Tennessee students.”

As the letter to the University of Alabama explains, “university policies forbid any expression deemed to be ‘other than’ ‘casual’ expression unless a Ground Use Permit (GUP) is obtained in advance.”

“Furthermore,” the letter continues, “Alabama’s policies are not reasonable or content and viewpoint neutral, because they examine whether expression is related to recent national news events, prohibit anonymous speech because they require a GUP and agreement, prohibit spontaneous speech because they require one to ten days advance approval, and grant unbridled discretion to administrators who may approve or disapprove of the speech based on its content or viewpoint…. Each of these restrictions and grants of discretion violates the First Amendment.”

“Alabama has the opportunity to up its ground use policy game to match its ground game on the gridiron,” the letter adds. “Coach Saban demands nothing short of perfection on the field, and Alabama’s students deserve nothing short of adherence to the First Amendment on their campus.”

“Today’s college students are tomorrow’s judges, legislators, teachers, and voters. The lessons they are learning about the First Amendment will impact our future,” said Casey Mattox, director of the ADF Center for Academic Freedom. “As a lifelong Bama fan, I hope that the university will agree that these future leaders of our state and nation should no longer be taught that they must seek the government’s permission to speak freely.”

“We at Young America’s Foundation unfortunately see universities place this kind of prior restraint on speech with increasing frequency,” said YAF spokesman Spencer Brown. “Bold YAF activists are leading the charge on college campuses around the country to help restore First Amendment freedoms for all students.”