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Alabama students win freedom of speech case in state Supreme Court

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The state’s highest court allows a lawsuit against the University of Alabama-Huntsville

A free speech lawsuit against the University of Alabama at Huntsville through its Young Americans for Liberty chapter over a policy that required permission to speak on campus continues after the state’s highest court overturned a lower court ruling.

The lawsuit challenged a UAH policy that “limits most student speeches to small ‘talking zones’ and requires students to obtain permission three business days in advance to speak on campus,” according to Alliance Defending Freedom, the legal non-profit organization representing the YAL club.

The group questioned the permit requirement, arguing it violates the Alabama Campus Free Speech Act of 2019. University spokesperson Elizabeth Gibisch responded to an email sent out last week seeking comment on the verdict not answered.

An ADF attorney updated The college fix regarding the status of the lawsuit via email on November 22.

After the Alabama Supreme Court allowed the litigation to proceed, “the case will proceed principally in the district court,” attorney Mathew Hoffman said.

Hoffmann said ADF was not aware of any plans by the university to change its free speech policy in light of the lawsuit.

He went on to describe a trend his organization is seeing on college campuses and how restrictions on free speech are affecting students.

“Unfortunately, we see all too often that universities restrict free speech on campus,” said Hoffmann. “But the Alliance Defending Freedom is fighting back, and we’ve had over 435 victories at universities across the country,” he said.

“All students, regardless of their point of view, should be able to speak freely and engage in respectful debate on campus. After all, that is the purpose of the university,” said Hoffmann.

The ADF attorney continued:

When universities restrict freedom of expression, students suffer. Elaborate policies stifle the free debate essential to the university’s pursuit of knowledge in the marketplace of ideas. And that’s exactly what’s happening at the University of Alabama in Huntsville, where students must obtain prior permission to speak on campus. Alabama law is clear: Students do not need permission from college officials to speak on campus, and we are confident that freedom of speech will triumph when brave students like our clients take a stand.

Restrictions such as those imposed by University of Alabama officials “prevent students from fully expressing themselves on campus,” according to a program officer with a separate freedom of speech group.

“Broad, vague policies that restrict students’ First Amendment rights prevent students from fully expressing themselves on campus,” said Zachary Greenberg, senior program officer at the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression The repair.

MORE: Yale student newspaper blames free speech for gay club shootings

“Public universities that are bound by the First Amendment must respect students’ freedom of speech,” Greenberg said. “If students fear being punished by their universities for speaking up, they will self-censor and dampen the free exchange of ideas that is the foundation of a college education.”

“The best way to fight for freedom of speech is to stand up for the rights of those you disagree with,” Greenberg said. “Freedom of expression protects us all equally,” he said.

“Students should learn to recognize when their peers’ free speech rights are being violated, form coalitions to defend free speech rights, and hold universities accountable for violating their rights,” Greenberg said.

Young Americans for Liberty national headquarters did not respond to a request for comment.

MORE: The University of Alabama threatens to suspend students for ‘malice’

PICTURE: Young Americans for Liberty/Instagram

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