Southwestern College Actions and Policies Infringe Free Speech

Since last November, the American Civil Liberties Union of San Diego & Imperial Counties has been working with the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education to convince Southwestern College to fix constitutional problems with its so-called “Freedom of Expression” policy. The policy illegally restricts speech, expression and assembly by students and faculty. Chief among the ACLU’s objections is the college’s declaration that most of the campus is not a public forum, and that assembly and expression would be confined to a small “free speech patio.”

Over the course of the ensuing eight months, the ACLU and FIRE have exchanged correspondence with SWC, which formed a committee to review the school’s free speech policy. “We’ve seen some forward progress,” said David Blair-Loy, legal director of the San Diego ACLU. “But we remain concerned that Southwestern just isn’t getting it. We still have serious concerns that the college is scared of free expression on its campus. I look forward to discussing this matter with the college’s counsel to see if imminent litigation can be averted.”

In a letter sent to SWC’s counsel today, the ACLU cited continuing concerns with the SWC policy requiring the use of permits as a prior restraint on free speech and with the college’s recalcitrant communications. Both the ACLU and FIRE have sent several letters to the college, but have not received a written response from SWC since a letter dated May 25, 2010, in which the school’s counsel indicated the school was continuing to revise its free speech policies and would consider suggestions offered by the ACLU and FIRE.

As always, the ACLU strives to resolve matters without litigation. “For the past several months I have been hoping to resolve these issues without litigation if possible,” Blair-Loy wrote in the letter. “If the relevant policies have been formally revised, please let me know as soon as possible. But if SWC has not taken and does not immediately take sufficient action to comply with the relevant law protecting freedom of speech on campus…I have no alternative but to initiate litigation.”

The ACLU’s demand letter offered continuing discussions on how to resolve the issues and protect freedom of speech on campus, but noted that after eight months and little to show for it, litigation is likely to result if the problem is not solved soon.

To read more background about this case, click here and here.