The Alabama Supreme Court heard oral arguments on Thursday regarding a free speech lawsuit that could challenge the limits of free speech on all Alabama campuses.
The suit is being brought by the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), representing a chapter of Young Americans for Liberty (YAL) and one particular student.
The student group is challenging the university's policy that limits most student speech to small "speech zones" and to obtain a permit to speak on campus three business days in advance.
The suit claims that the requirements violate the Alabama Campus Free Speech Act and the Alabama Constitution.
"Alabama state law guarantees that all students at public universities can freely speak outdoors on campus grounds," said ADF legal counsel Mathew Hoffmann, who argued before the court. "University campuses should be encouraging free speech, not stifling it with burdensome and illegal rules like limiting speech to certain zones and requiring students to get a permit from college administrators before sharing their views. We hope the Alabama Supreme Court will affirm the right of students with Young Americans for Liberty to exercise their freedoms under state law."
The suit claims that the student members of YAL want to engage their peers in important policy debates about various issues, including gun control, federalism, and other topics but are refraining from doing so for fear of violating the university's "suppressive" speech policy.
The suit also claims that, because the permits are subject to the university's approval, administrators can pick and choose which views are allowed on campus.
"YAL's commitment to free speech is finally getting its day in court tomorrow. The bureaucrats in the University of Alabama system have made it clear that they view their students' rights to free expression as secondary to their own desire for control," said JP Kirby, director of Student Rights at YAL. "Not only are the policies we are challenging unconstitutional under the Alabama constitution, but they have been specifically outlawed by the Alabama Campus Free Speech Act. Fortunately, students like Joshua Greer at UA Huntsville are willing to go the distance to fight for their rights."
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