SPRINGFIELD, Mass. – Alliance Defending Freedom attorneys representing a student and the campus chapter of Young Americans for Liberty filed a federal lawsuit Monday against the University of Massachusetts Amherst for its highly restrictive speech policy. The policy restricts all “speeches and rallies” to less than one percent of campus and only between noon and 1 p.m. each day.
The policy doesn’t define “speech” or “rally,” instead leaving that decision up to the discretion of university officials and opening the door to unconstitutional discrimination based on a student group’s viewpoint. Giving a speech or holding a rally outside of the small speech zone on the west side of the Student Union building and during hours other than between noon and 1 p.m. may result in sanctions up to and including expulsion from the university.
“A public university is hardly the marketplace of ideas that it’s supposed to be when the marketplace is less than one percent of campus and only open for one hour a day—and then only if university officials approve of your presence there,” said ADF Legal Counsel Caleb Dalton. “UMass-Amherst’s speech policy contains provisions similar to those that courts have repeatedly struck down as unconstitutional at other schools. If the university wishes to demonstrate its dedication to the free exchange of ideas, it can do so by fixing its policy so that it’s consistent with the First Amendment.”
The Speech Zone Policy specifically states, “Outdoor speeches and rallies during class hours may be held only on the west side (main entrance) of the Student Union Building, and shall be limited to one (1) hour in length, from noon to 1:00 p.m.”
Any “unauthorized presence in or use of University premises, facilities or property” constitutes a violation of the UMass Code of Student Conduct. Penalties for violations of the Code of Student Conduct range from a “warning” to expulsion from the university.
YAL and the student, Nicholas Consolini, desire to host and present speeches and to rally in other publicly accessible open areas of campus, but the policy subjects them to sanctions if they do so.
“Today’s college students will be tomorrow’s judges, legislators, and voters,” said ADF Senior Counsel Casey Mattox, director of the ADF Center for Academic Freedom. “Public universities should be teaching the value of our Constitution to their students, not ignoring it.”
ADF-allied attorney Andrew Beckwith of Massachusetts Family Institute is serving as local counsel in the case, Young Americans for Liberty at University of Massachusetts, Amherst v. Manning, filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts, Eastern Division.
The ADF Center for Academic Freedom is dedicated to ensuring freedom of speech and association for students and faculty so that everyone can freely participate in the marketplace of ideas without fear of government censorship.