Justice Department Backs Student Who Accused University of Limiting Free Speech

Justice Department Backs Student Who Accused University of Limiting Free Speech

The Justice Department is expressing support for a California college student who is challenging the constitutionality of a so-called "free speech zone" on his campus. The official told Shaw that he could only hand out the Constitution in the "free-speech zone" on campus-616 square feet of the school's 426 acres-and would need a permit. The brief warns of a larger epidemic of suppression of free speech and expression at colleges and universities across the country, and asserts the US government's need to protect "constitutional freedoms in institutions of higher learning".

The DOJ also argues that the problem is not limited to Pierce College. "The Justice Department continues to do its part in defending free speech, protecting students' free expression, and enforcing federal law", Attorney General Jeff Sessions said in a press release accompanying the action.

"Free speech has come under attack on campuses across the country", the brief says. "Such failure is of grave concern because freedom of expression is "vital" on campuses".

The DOJ alleges that Pierce College's "Free Speech Area" placed illegitimate restrictions on the place, time, and manner of student expression on campus.

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"University officials and faculty must defend free expression boldly and unequivocally", Sessions said in the press release.

Shaw was also told that, in order to use the free speech zone, he would have to apply for a permit, and that if he refused to do so he would be asked to leave campus, according to court documents.

"The only permission slip that a student needs to speak in the common areas of a public university campus is the First Amendment", ADF attorney Tyson Langhofer said in a statement, calling other policies "draconian".

Similar in a handful of ways - including the "free speech zone" mandate - the Justice Department argued in this case that the college's policies "were not content-neutral, established an impermissible heckler's veto, and were not narrowly tailored to achieve a compelling government interest".

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