Politics Club Corner: Free Speech Should Not be Zoned - The Rotunda Online : News

Politics Club Corner: Free Speech Should Not be Zoned

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Posted: Wednesday, February 20, 2013 10:40 am

Last semester, several students lobbied Longwood University’s Student Government Association (SGA) to support a change in Longwood’s speech codes. The decision died on the SGA floor, with no clear majority in favor or opposed.

Those students then went on to petition the Faculty Senate to support a change in Longwood’s speech codes. The faculty fully supported the measure, but without the SGA, their support went unheard. With enough pressure, the matter went to Longwood administration, where it was passed over with minimal dis- cussion.

Currently, Longwood’s speech codes have earned our university terrible reviews from First Amend- ment watchdog groups who refer to our speech codes as “unconstitu- tional” and “some of the worst they have seen.”

The university’s current speech codes state, “The open area designated for speeches and demonstrations is the Lankford Mall ... A request for use of this area must be made a minimum of five (5) business days in advance of the event ... Groups or individuals may only use those designated areas once per month and for a maximum period of two days.”

Lankford Mall is the university’s Free Speech Zone. Free speech zones became popular on college campuses several years ago as groups like Westboro Baptist Church began touring colleges, but have quickly fallen out of style as more and more students have confronted their uni- versities about just how unconstitutional their speech codes are.

Longwood’s speech codes are no different, and in fact, they mirror West Virginia University’s speech codes, which were struck down as unconstitutional.

Longwood’s student handbook professes that no right is regarded more highly than that of the First Amendment, but our speech codes speak otherwise.

Why should my first amendment rights be limited to use no more than twice a month behind Lankford Student Union between the hours of 9 a.m. to 9 p.m.? And that is only if I notify the Office of Conferences and Scheduling no less than five business days in advance. I have personally witnessed, and have anecdotal accounts of, students being removed from Brock Commons for handing out flyers. The mere act of one individual handing out flyers to promote an event vio- lates Longwood’s speech codes.

Longwood holds that they are fully in line with the law, but universities all across the United States, including West Virginia University, the Univer- sity of North Carolina-Greensboro, Texas Tech University, Citrus College, the University of Nevada-Re- no, Colorado State University and dozens more have had to alter their speech codes after court cases ruled against policies exactly like ours.

Longwood still contends, and uses this point to justify our Free Speech Zone, that public universities in Virginia must have speech codes that are in line with any other speech code for a public place.

This ideal would hold up were it not for the recent successes of Christopher Newport University, the University of Virginia and Virginia Tech in altering their speech codes to be in line with the Constitution.

One First Amendment attorney noted that “despite the unbroken string of defeats for campus speech codes, a majority of colleges and universities shockingly continued to enforce policies that silenced campus speech.”

Security and order are vital to the operations of any institution, and Longwood is no different. But to clamp down on basic rights such as free speech for the sake of order and stability is not excusable.

Those who argue for free speech zones say that losing them would impede travel or that it would inconvenience the students too much.

I, however, have ample faith in our student body, and our agreed upon code of conduct, to treat their fellow students with respect, regardless of whether they are protesting on Brock Commons, handing out flyers by Wheeler or promoting their sorority next to Janet D. Greenwood Library.

*** This editorial is an opinion stated by the writer and does not represent the views of The Rotunda or Longwood University.

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