Arkansas State seeks delay in free speech lawsuit

February 5, 2019 GMT

JONESBORO, Ark. (AP) — Arkansas State University attorneys want a judge to delay a lawsuit challenging the university’s use of “free speech zones,” citing a bill that would require the university to change its policy.

University legal counsel Delena Hurst told The Jonesboro Sun that she requested the delay because the proposed Forming Open and Robust University Minds (FORUM) Act significantly affects the issues in the lawsuit. The bill, which moved to the Senate’s education committee Monday, would ban state-supported colleges and universities from creating “free speech zones or other designated areas of campus outside of which expressive activities are prohibited.” The act would declare outdoor areas of campus “a public forum for members of the campus community.”

The speech zone policy dates back to 1998 and sets times and places for speeches and demonstrations, distributions of written materials, and marches. The speech zones are typically available between 8 a.m. and 9 p.m. Monday through Friday, and usage must be scheduled in advance. The zones comprise a total area of about 1 percent of campus, the lawsuit said.

The Alliance Defending Freedom, a nonprofit that advocates for religious freedom, sued the ASU System in 2017 on behalf of student Ashlyn Hoggard and conservative group Turning Point USA. The lawsuit challenges the constitutionality of the university’s speech zone policy, saying that it prevented Hoggard from promoting Turning Point on campus. The university noted in its brief that Turning Point since become a registered student group and can use areas that are reserved for such organizations.

Tyson Langhoffer, an attorney for Hoggard and Turning Point, is against a delay in the case.

“The (university) policy already in place essentially restricted free speech to anyone on campus,” he said. “Any delay means the students’ right to speech is delayed.”

U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos also criticized the university’s free speech policy in September.

“As the purpose of learning is forgotten, ignored or denied, we are inundated daily with stories of administrators and faculty manipulating marketplaces of ideas,” she said.


Information from: The Jonesboro Sun,