DOJ Backs Challenge of Campus 'Free Speech' Zones

The Justice Department has weighed in in support of a challenge by some college students to "free speech" zones established by Gwinnett College for speech that "disturbs the...comfort of persons."

That came in a statement of interest filed in Uzuegbunam v. Preczewski.

The lawsuit claims a violation of the students' First Amendment speech rights. Students were required to get prior authorization for their disturbing speech and confine it to the "free speech zones" that, Justice pointed out, amounted to .00015% of the campus.

Related: FCC's Pai: Free Speech Is Under Siege

Justice said in the statement that it felt the plaintiffs had "adequately represented" that their First Amendment speech rights and 14th amendment due process rights have been violated, and that the college's speech policies "were not content-neutral, established an impermissible heckler’s veto, and were not narrowly tailored to achieve a compelling government interest."

Attorney General Jeff Sessions added: “A national recommitment to free speech on campus and to ensuring First Amendment rights is long overdue. Which is why, starting today, the Department of Justice will do its part in this struggle. We will enforce federal law, defend free speech and protect students’ free expression.”

(Photo via Tony Webster's flickrImage taken on June 1, 2014 and used per Creative Commons 2.0 license. The photo was cropped to fit 16x9 aspect ratio.)

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.