ADVERTISEMENT

Court upholds dismissal of suit against Arkansas State

September 1, 2020 GMT

JONESBORO, Ark. (AP) — A federal appeals court upheld the dismissal of a conservative group’s lawsuit against Arkansas State University, which alleges that the school limited free speech on campus.

On Monday, the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals found that a university policy that has since been repealed was unconstitutional in regards to students recruiting members to an unregistered organization, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reported.

In 2017, attorneys with Alliance Defending Freedom filed the lawsuit on behalf of student Ashlyn Hoggard and conservative group Turning Point USA. Hoggard, who graduated in 2019, had set up a table on campus to recruit students for a Turning Point chapter, but a school official told her that she was in violation of the school’s free speech zone policy.

ADVERTISEMENT

The policy sets times and places for demonstrations and distribution of written material, which must be scheduled ahead of time.

Hoggard tried to reserve a table in the student union but was denied because only registered student organizations can reserve tables there, the lawsuit says. She set up a table outside the student union the next day before she was told to leave.

The court’s opinion, written by U.S. Circuit Judge L. Steven Grasz, said that the tabling policy was “unreasonable and unconstitutional.” He also wrote that the defendants named in the lawsuit “may reasonably have not understood this at the time.”

The opinion also states that those university trustees are entitled to qualified immunity.

“We are pleased overall with the decision of the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals. We have no further comment at this time,” Jeff Hankins, a spokesman for the ASU System, said in an email.

Chris Schandevel, an attorney with the Christian legal advocacy group, said in a statement that “by affirming that Arkansas State officials violated Ashlyn’s constitutional rights, the court ensured that the law is clearly established going forward.”

The appeal was filed after the university revised its speech policy to reflect a change in state law. In February 2019, legislators passed the FORUM Act, which blocked public colleges and universities from establishing free-expression zones.

In August 2019, U.S. District Court Judge Leon Holmes’ decision to dismiss the case noted the school’s revised policy.

Schandevel, told the newspaper in a statement that “we’ll be deciding in the next several days whether more can be gained by appealing further.” He said the lawsuit “prompted the Arkansas General Assembly to enact the FORUM Act.”