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Fliers Prohibited for White Student Group

December 7th, 2018

Fliers were posted at the University of California Los Angeles promoting a “white student group" that is not affiliated with the college.

Fliers were posted at the University of California Los Angeles promoting a “white student group” that is not affiliated with the college.

After the 2016 election of Donald Trump, a handful of fliers were posted at the University of California Los Angeles promoting a “white student group,” which was a group that was not affiliated with the college. The fliers, several of which were found taped to buildings, listed a website, a Twitter account, and an e-mail address to contact for more information. The fliers were quickly removed by the university, as they violated the school’s neutral content posting regulations, which restrict the display of fliers by non-school affiliated groups. While private universities are not state actors and have more leeway with respect to constitutional rights, public universities are considered states actors and are bound by First Amendment rights.

It is important for all individuals who are interested in the debate about public expression in schools to become familiar with these distinctions. In many cases, it is easy to determine whether the content-based or content-neutral restrictions apply. If a restriction treats speech differently based on the viewpoint or subject matter of the speech, the restriction is based on the content of the speech.

The Power of the First Amendment

The First Amendment of the United States Constitution protects the right to freedom of religion and freedom of expression from interference by the government. Freedom of expression extends to a variety of subjects including the rights to freedom of speech, press, assembly, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances. The Supreme Court interprets the extent of the protections afforded to individuals by the First Amendment.

Content-Neutral Regulations

The most basic element of freedom of expression is the freedom of speech. The right to freedom of speech allows individuals to express themselves without interference by the government. Content-neutral restrictions regulate speech without considering the subject or viewpoint contained within the speech. These types of content-neutral restrictions are permissible even when they incidentally affect the content of speech to some degree. In order for a content neutral restriction to be considered valid, the restrictions must be justified without reference to the content of the regulated speech and must be narrowly tailored to serve a significant government interest while still leaving open ample alternative channels for the communication of information.

Content-Based Restrictions

Content-based restrictions are often only found applicable in a handful of limited circumstances. A restriction on the exercise of free speech based upon the subject matter or type of speech is considered to be content based restriction. These types of restrictions are permissible only if the restriction is based on a compelling state interest and is so narrowly drawn that it achieves only the intended restriction. For example, if a public school campus would make certain regulations regarding what type of message can be expressed in fliers, content based restrictions likely apply.

The Universal Life Church

The debate concerning freedom of speech at educational facilities is constantly evolving. Individuals who are interested in the most recent changes concerning this area of law should make sure to read the Universal Life Church Blog, which aims to explain matters as they unfold.

(image courtesy of Inbal Marilli)

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