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Lawsuit: Student political speech iced at ISU

Empower Wisconsin | Jan. 7, 2020

Another Midwest university finds itself the defendant in a lawsuit alleging abuse of student speech.

Speech First last week filed a federal lawsuit against Iowa State University as part of the nonprofit membership group’s “efforts to help restore free speech and expression to America’s universities.”

“Iowa State University maintains a series of policies that have both the purpose and the effect of chilling student speech. One month out from a major political primary, students have been significantly – and unconstitutionally – burdened from participating in the political process,” Nicole Neily, president and founder of Speech First, said in a press release.

The lawsuit claims three university policies — a ban on chalking, a prohibition on student emails related to campaigns and elections, and a Campus Climate Reporting System – has “created an elaborate investigative and enforcement regime designed to chill speech concerning political and social issues of public concern.”

Such registrations are particularly chilling in a state that plays a significant role in the presidential candidate selection process, the Neily argues.

“The state of Iowa is a major destination for presidential candidates, who are on or near campus on a regular basis,” she said. “Many students learn about meet-and-greet events because events have traditionally been promoted through chalking – and by banning these advertisements and emails, students are missing out on major civic participation opportunities.” According to the school, there are more than 33,000 students currently enrolled at ISU.

Many schools allow chalking — using chalk on sidewalks and campus buildings to advertise student events — in designated areas.

And, like many other universities, ISU maintains a Campus Climate Reporting System where students have reported scores of “bias” allegations. A Freedom of Information Act request filed by The College Fix reveals that political speech — including support for President Donald Trump and Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds — is frequently the subject of reports, according to Speech First.

Speech First has asked the court to declare unconstitutional the alleged First Amendment violations and to enjoin the chalking ban and prohibition on electronic correspondence in support of candidates and ballot initiatives in advance of the Feb. 3 Iowa caucuses.

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