USC Forces Student to Sign Up for Free Speech Rights on Campus

Free Speech College
AFP PHOTO/Josh Edelson

A controversial policy at the University of Southern California requires students to ask permission in advance if they want speak in certain designated areas of campus.

According to a report from the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), the University of Southern California recently implemented a policy that requires students to ask for permission before holding any sort of demonstration on campus.

The legal analysis from FIRE suggests that the policy is unconstitutional under the First Amendment. USC is a private institution, which means they have more leeway when it comes to campus speech restrictions.

Under First Amendment standards, universities may put in place reasonable “time, place, and manner restrictions” on where and when demonstrations can take place on campus in order to limit disruptions to regular college activities and functions. However, forcing students to apply for a permit two weeks in advance in order to conduct all sorts of demonstrations —  whether involving a group of three people or one of three hundred — is nowhere near reasonable.

Promising students that they’ll have the right to hold a demonstration is meaningless and misleading when students are prevented from actually reacting to current and still-unfolding events in the moment. USC must revise this policy so that students are not discouraged from protesting altogether by a burdensome permit application process, and so that students can instead conduct spontaneous expressive activities on campus.

Policies like the one in question at USC have unfortunately become increasingly common at universities around the country. True liberals should take issue with the reality that students now have to get permission if they want to stand in a campus courtyard with poster boards promoting their political positions. These types of demonstrations have been an integral part of American academic culture, specifically as a result of our country’s emphasis on First Amendment principles.

FIRE has given USC its “red light” rating, which is reserved for schools that substantially restrict speech with at least one policy.

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