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Emory student free speech group rejected to prevent ‘harm’

‘The rejection of the Emory Free Speech Forum exemplifies the exact reason why this club must exist’ 

Students at Emory University School of Law seeking to start a free speech group were rejected by the Student Bar Association, which argued in its denial letter there are “no apparent safeguards in place to prevent potential and real harm that could result” from the group’s various discussions.

The Student Bar Association, in rejecting the request from the Emory Free Speech Forum for official recognition, also said the group was too similar to other campus groups to approve.

The rejection letter was recently published by the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, which is lobbying on behalf of the Emory Free Speech Forum to get the decision overturned. FIRE argues the decision violates the private university’s free-expression policy.

On Jan. 10, FIRE publicly called on Emory Law to approve the forum’s application, which was rejected in late October:

EFSF satisfied all criteria for recognition. However, several SBA members objected to the speakers the group sought to host, the group’s decision to forgo moderators for its discussion-based events, and the group’s perceived similarity to the Federalist Society and the American Constitution Society.

The SBA ultimately rejected EFSF’s application, citing the “nature of this group” and speculating that EFSF’s discussions “will likely give rise to a precarious environment – one where the conversation might very easily devolve.” The SBA admitted it was “hesitant to issue a charter when there are no apparent safeguards in place to prevent potential and real harm that could result from these discussions[.]”

“The only ‘harm’ here is the SBA abusing its authority to deny these students their free speech rights,” said FIRE Senior Program Officer Zach Greenberg, who wrote FIRE’s letters to Emory Law. “At Emory Law, future lawyers are apparently taught that it’s fine to use government power to punish groups they dislike — the freedom of expression be damned.”

“The rejection of the Emory Free Speech Forum exemplifies the exact reason why this club must exist,” Michael Reed-Price, president of Emory Free Speech Forum, said in a statement published by FIRE.

“Emory Law School’s Student Bar Association values free speech only so long as the ideas are in line with their viewpoint. The SBA need not agree with our ideas, they must merely tolerate our right to express them.”

The law school told Just the News on Jan. 14 it cannot currently address the issue because of a moratorium on chartering new student organizations due to the COVID pandemic.

“The SBA therefore will not have an opportunity to consider providing any new proposed student groups with temporary charters under the applicable law school and university guidelines until March 2022, pending further developments,” Associate Dean for Marketing and Communication Susan Clark said via email.

“The law school does not anticipate the need to develop alternative recognition procedures for student groups but would do so if necessary and appropriate to comply with law school and university policies.”

The controversy marks the second time Emory law students have worked against free speech and free expression recently. As The College Fix reported last week, a controversial law professor’s article was refused publication in Emory’s law review for including language student editors deemed “hurtful and unnecessarily divisive.”

Two law professors, one liberal and one conservative, have withdrawn their articles from publication in the journal in protest, and two other law professors have reportedly conditioned the publication of their own essays on Emory Law Journal’s willingness to include a note from them criticizing the decision.

MORE: Emory fraternity faces discipline for hanging Christmas wreath on door

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About the Author
Fix Editor
Jennifer Kabbany is editor-in-chief of The College Fix.