The University of Cincinnati lost a court battle yesterday when a federal judge ruled that the public university's decision to restrict all "demonstrations, picketing, and rallies" to a Free Speech Area was a violation of the First Amendment.
U.S. District Court Judge Timothy Black ruled that containing the area in which students and outsiders who obtain the proper permission to demonstrate acted as an unconstitutional limitation.
In February, the UC Chapter of Young Americans for Liberty (YAL) filed a lawsuit against the university after they were denied the right to circulate freely across UC's campus to gather signatures for a petition to place the Ohio Workplace Freedom Amendment on the Nov. 2012 ballot.
The students were restricted to gathering signatures only in the university-designated Free Speech Area within the McMicken Commons Northwest Corner, which is less than one tenth the size of a football field. Officials threatened to arrest students who attempted to gather signatures outside of that zone. The space restriction often rendered the the students' efforts ineffective; the Free Speech Area covers, relatively, a miniscule part of UC's campus.
YAL plaintiffs argued that UC's free speech policy was unfairly vague and unconstitutional. The 1851 Center for Constitutional Law, a non-profit, non-partisan legal center, assisted YAL with the lawsuit.
According to a press release from the 1851 Center for Constitutional Law, Judge Black's ruling prevents UC from enacting or upholding a free speech policy from:
• “Requiring prior notification for the solicitation by students of signatures for petitions;”
• “Prohibiting all solicitation by students of signatures for petitions in any designated public forum, including the Free Speech Area, the outdoor spaces described in the MainStreet Event Guide, and campus sidewalks;”
• “Requiring that all student ‘demonstrations, picketing, or rallies’ occur only in the Free Speech Area;”
• “Requiring 5 to 15 days prior notification for any and all student ‘demonstrations, picketing, or rallies’ without differentiations;”
• “Imposing or enforcing any policy restricting student speech in any designated public forum, including the Free Speech Area, the outdoors spaces described in the MainStreet Event Guide, and campus sidewalks, that is not individually and narrowly tailored to serve a compelling university interest.
In March, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education named UC's speech policies the worst in the nation specifically because of the restrictive free speech zone.