Campus group challenges UA free speech policy

The University requires notice 10 days in advance of on-campus events. One student group is challenging that policy.


Grace Schepis | @GraceSchepisCW, Staff Writer

Young Americans for Liberty’s (YAL) UA chapter is challenging the University’s free speech policy that requires prior approval for on-campus events. Attorneys from the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) are representing the UA organization, which filed suit against the University on May 21. 

The ADF said the policy violates the Alabama FORUM Act that requires “public colleges and universities to respect the free speech rights of students on campus.” The ADF hopes to expand speech privileges on campus by abolishing the need for a permit ahead of on-campus events. 

The UA Facility and Grounds Use Policy requires students to request approval for on-campus events at least 10 business days in advance. Spontaneous activities of expression, which the policy defines as events “prompted by news or affairs coming into public knowledge less than 48 hours prior to the event,” are allowed in defined areas without advance approval.

A statement from the ADF said this allows administrators to “pick and choose which events and viewpoints are allowed on campus.”

Not only did the ADF attorneys disagree with the UA policy, but they claimed it violated state law. 

Alabama’s FORUM Act, signed into law by Governor Kay Ivey in 2019, followed former President Donald Trump’s executive order expanding free speech on college campuses. Trump threatened to pull research funding from institutions that did not comply. 

Also referred to as HB 498, the FORUM Act addresses issues of speaker selection, the abolition of free speech zones and protection against disruptive material. The bill prevents universities from discriminating against groups that want to speak on campus and supports equal promotion of student voices. 

The ADF press release stated that UA policies “illegally prevent students from engaging in spontaneous expression and from promoting their events,” and cite the YAL as an example of a campus group hindered by the University’s policy. 

UA Director of Communications Deidre Stalnaker said the University was not getting involved in the case.

“We do not comment on the specifics of pending litigation; however, The University of Alabama System Board of Trustees, the UA System and The University of Alabama remain committed to freedom of speech and expression for campus community members,” Stalnaker said. 

The ADF recently won a case defending a student at Georgia Gwinnett College. ADF attorneys argued before the Supreme Court that the student had the right to preach the Gospel in public campus spaces. 

After four years, the ADF won the case 8-1. 

“We are grateful that Gov. Ivey signed the FORUM Act into law, but now university officials must act consistently with that law to ensure that pro-liberty students—like all students—have the freedom to share their beliefs anywhere on campus, and without first asking college administrators for permission to speak,” said Tyson Langhofer, director of the ADF Center for Academic Freedom.