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UMass Amherst restricts free speech to 1 hour during lunch. New lawsuit aims to change that.

‘Restricting free speech to an hour during the lunch break and to one side of a building is not what the First Amendment is about’ 

A conservative legal group representing UMass Amherst’s chapter of Young Americans for Liberty has filed a lawsuit against the school over what they claim is a highly restrictive speech policy.

The school restricts speeches and rallies to one hour per day — noon to 1 p.m. — in a limited area in front of the Student Union Building that represents less than 1 percent of campus, according to a news release from the Alliance Defending Freedom legal group.

What’s more, students risk sanctions up to expulsion for violating the policy, it added.

“We are not looking for an unfair advantage here, but simply a level playing field,” Cliff Maloney, executive president of Young Americans for Liberty, told The College Fix. “Restricting free speech to an hour during the lunch break and to one side of a building is not what the First Amendment is about.”

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Sophomore Nick Consolini, an economics major and chair of the Young Americans for Liberty chapter, is named as a plaintiff in the lawsuit.

“Consolini’s only option to deliver a speech or to rally students in his capacity as an individual student is to speak or rally only between noon and 1 p.m. in front of the Student Union Building because he is unable to reserve any other meeting space as an individual,” the lawsuit states. Meanwhile, it adds, the college’s 1,400 acres offer plenty of open spaces where such events would not disrupt educational activities.

“These issues have been ongoing at UMass for several years. Students have talked with the administration and written op-eds, Alliance Defending Freedom has sent letters in the past, and UMass has done nothing,” AnnMarie Pariseau, lawyer to Consolini, told The College Fix. “Instead of risking sanctions and potentially ruining their academic career by violating the policy, the students have chosen to challenge it proactively so that they and other students can express themselves freely on campus without fear of punishment if the University decides to enforce the speech zone against them.”

University spokesperson Ed Blaguszwski declined to comment on the case.

Over the last year the lawfirm has actively taken on a variety of free speech issues on campuses nationwide and has seen much success, including at the University of Virginia, Iowa State University and the University of Southern Maine.

In addition to defending groups like Young Americans for Liberty, the group has been successful at preventing colleges from discriminating against other pro-freedom student groups like Young Americans for Freedom and Turning Point USA. In other cases, they’ve secured the right of students to hand out copies of the U.S. Constitution.

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About the Author
Will Nardi -- UMass Boston