School officials went about ‘inventing’ rule to censor messaging
WND News Center
An appeals court has affirmed the speech rights of students at Clovis Community College, striking down a flyer policy that discriminated against conservatives.
WND had reported when the students won their initial battle with the California school.
There, Clovis Community College had imposed an unconstitutional speech code “that resulted in the suppression of conservative students’ viewpoints.” It was that agenda that was struck down by a federal judge, who ruled for three students from a chapter of Young Americans for Freedom who wanted to criticize authoritarianism on campus.
They did this by putting up posters listing the death tolls from communist regimes, which the school ordered taken down.
Judge Jennifer Thurston said, however, that the First Amendment doesn’t allow administrators to regulate the content of student speech by claiming that once students post a flyer, it suddenly “becomes” the college’s speech.
The court warned “a government entity cannot avoid constitutional requirements merely by declaring it can do so.”
Now the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has upheld that ruling.
The Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression, working on behalf of the students last year, had secured a preliminary injunction. Then after the judge’s decision, the school demanded the appeals court reverse the case decision.
“Clovis tried again to justify its censorship, but the court saw through its flawed arguments,” said FIRE attorney Daniel Ortner. “The panel’s decision shows what we’ve argued all along: Clovis’ flyer policy is overbroad, vague, and indefensible in a court of law.”
The school had insisted that students were not allowed to post anything with “inappropriate” or “offensive” language, “effectively giving Clovis administrators free reign to remove any flyers they disliked,” FIRE explained.
The appeals decision said, “What is ‘inappropriate’ or ‘offensive’ is a subjective determination, which would vary based on a college administrator’s personal beliefs.”
Emails obtained via a public records request revealed that soon after the flyers went up, a Clovis administrator wrote that he would “gladly” take the flyers down, following complaints about their content. The administrator also wrote that approving the flyers in the first place may have been a “mistake,” and that Clovis instead should have censored them under a policy that states, “Posters with inappropriate or offense [sic] language or themes are not permitted and will not be approved,” FIRE reported.
Clovis chief Lori Bennett then personally ordered their removal.
She then went about “inventing a brand new rule requiring flyers to double as club announcements.”
“If you need a reason, you can let them know that [we] agreed they aren’t club announcements,” Bennett wrote to Clovis staff. Clovis does not have a policy on the books that requires flyers to be club announcements. But with this excuse in hand, Clovis employees told student workers to remove the flyers.
The 9th Circuit found the school in violation of the First Amendment.
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