Congrats to the folks at The FIRE for a significant First Amendment victory in federal court in San Francisco. As discussed here,, they assisted with a case brought by the San Francisco State University college Republicans, who had been brought up on various school charges for the sin of stomping on mock Hamas and Hezbollah flags (which they drew themselves) at an "anti-terrorism rally." Spectators protested that because these flags include the name of Allah, stomping on them was offensive. SFSU initiated disciplinary proceedings against the College Republicans, charging them with actions inconsistent with SFSU's "goals, principles, and policies" and with "incivility."
SFSU eventually cleared the group of the charges. But the group filed suit in federal court, seeking an injunction against enforcement of various portions of SFSU's code of conduct. This month they prevailed when the magistrate judge assigned to the matter issued a decision noting what should be obvious: the First Amendment binds SFSU, and SFSU's ban on "incivility" is ridiculously overbroad (that is to say, prohibiting both protected and unprotected speech) and thus is unenforceable.
The court's opinion, though long and full of lawyer stuff, is well worth reading to anyone interested in First Amendment issues. It has a good and plainly presented review of basic First Amendment issues, overbreadth analysis, and the question of whether students enjoy lesser First Amendment protection. Note that the court didn't give them everything they wanted — it ruled that the "harassment" and "intimidation" language in the SFSU code could be construed narrowly to survive an overbreadth challenge.
Maybe I'm naive, but I find it astounding that a state school in this day and age could think that it could punish students for political expression on the grounds that the expression was not "civil."
Thumbs up to The Fire, thumbs down to SFSU.
Last 5 posts by Ken White
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- Lawsplainer: Why John Oliver Is Anti-Diversity Now - August 11th, 2017