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Rights group contacts GPC about freedom of expression policy

By Alan Simpson

 

GPC’s free expression policy is in the crosshairs of a national rights advocacy group.

The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education sent interim President Rob Watts a letter Dec. 7 to request immediate revision of the college’s free expression policy.

Azhar Majeed, FIRE’s associate director of legal and public advocacy, authored the letter, calling GPC’s free expression policy a “threat to free speech and assembly.”

“GPC’s Free Expression Policy violates the First Amendment,” wrote Majeed.

FIRE learned of GPC’s policy from an article published online by the Student Press Law Center.

SPLC reported on a Nov. 14 incident in which David Schick, editor-in-chief of the Collegian, was informed he was violating the school’s policy by soliciting student opinions on the cancellation of fall graduation between buildings CD and CN on Clarkston campus.

Jordan Bradley, who wrote the SPLC story, contacted Schick the following week to let him know Will Creeley, director of legal and public advocacy for FIRE, wanted to speak with him.

“We were shocked to read of your ordeal,” wrote Creeley in an email to Schick. After interviewing Schick, FIRE decided to proceed with a letter to GPC.

“FIRE asks that GPC revise its Free Expression Policy to make clear to all campus community members and university public safety officers that students like David Schick may demonstrate in the open and public areas of the campus without the requirement of prior notice,” wrote Majeed.

Majeed added, “FIRE would be happy to be of help with these revisions in any way we can, as we are committed to ensuring that GPC students are not subject to unconstitutional limitations on their freedom of expression.”

Majeed requested that GPC respond to FIRE’s letter no later than Dec. 21.

GPC’s policy requires that freedom of expression occur only in a “Free Expression area” located in the courtyard between buildings CA, CB, CC and CG.

The policy further states that the use of the area “must be approved through the Office of Student Life at least three (3) working days in advance,” and the area is only available 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Monday through Friday and 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. Monday through Thursday when classes are in session.

Schick was not stopped at Dunwoody or Decatur campuses.

For more information on FIRE, visit www.thefire.org.

UPDATE: Read FIRE’s full letter to GPC here.

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  • Free Speech

    I see your point. However, if it can be demonstrated that an exercise of free speech impinges in any way upon the college’s primary mission, instruction, then it can be shut down and the participants arrested. Policies like this are intented to prevent this. Personally, I see no problem with spontaneous expressions if they are held in a designated area designed to minimize impingement on instructional activities… but they still run the risk of affecting the delivery of instruction that could lead to shut down.

    • Okay, I probably should stay out of this, but to be specific about this particular situation… We’re talking about circulating a petition.
      In no way whatsoever does talking to students and circulating a petition impinge on the instruction of the college. And it was a violation of my first amendment right to require me to fill out a form to do so. These designated areas may help with minimizing “impingement on instructional activities,” but they also violate the first amendment. Maybe I’m wrong, but I always thought America was a free speech zone. As long as you’re not violating the rights of others, spontaneous expressions or peaceful protests should be allowed to occur without any bureaucratic involvement. When you add the element of administration regulation to free expression it ceases to be free.

      • Free Speech

        I agree, circulating a petition is not the same as a demonstration and should require no advance notice. The activity may or may not interfere in instruction, though I seriously doubt it would, unless it spawned a spontaneous demonstration. Now, as to “I always thought America was a free speech zone”… yes, and no. One cannot exercise their free speech anywhere they want to, whenever they want to; of course you know this. Groups like FIRE exist because the question of where, when & how is open to debate, and always will be.

  • Free Speech is Safe at GPC

    These policies are not unduly restrictive nor do they prevent or significantly inhibit the expression of free speech on campus. The facts are that most colleges have policies like this in effect; some colleges and universities have policies that require advance notice as much as 10 days. The reasons for these policies are simple, they enable campuses to prepare for any issues that such expression might entail, such as parking or congestion of foot traffic; they help guarantee that instruction will not be disturbed, and they help to ensure public safety, allowing expression to occur in a place that is safe and central to campus; as in the case of GPC’s location, which is essentially the most trafficked public space on campus. Policies like this have withstood Constitutional scrutiny under the 1st Amendment.

    • Is free speech safe?

      I’m not a lawyer, but according to FIRE’s letter it would appear that you are incorrect in saying that GPC’s polices “are not unduly restrictive.”

      FIRE points out “a recent federal court decision striking down a free speech zone policy at the University of Cincinnati that placed similar restrictions on student expression” as basis for their claim that GPC’s freedom of expression policy violates the First Amendment.

      The reason you give for these policies is understandable from an administrators point of view, but it also allows too much potential for abuse.

      “This limitation alone is enough to render the regulation unconstitutional, but GPC compounds its error by requiring that all student expression occurring on campus must be both registered with and approved by campus administrators three working days in advance. Protests and demonstrations are often spontaneous responses to unfolding events; students wishing to demonstrate in response to an immediate crisis will be deprived of the impact of their message by being forced to wait three days to demonstrate, by which time the events they wished to protest may be in the past.”