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USC breaks its promise to protect free speech on campus says First Amendment group

FIRE has to ask them again to stop suppressing free speech after asking for two years

The University of Southern California has broken its promise to protect free speech on campus, according to a recent letter from the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education.

The free speech advocacy group said the school recently made it harder for students to organize protests and events on campus, extending the pre-approval time to eight weeks. The university had made promises throughout the past two years indicating it had plans to update the policies, which required two weeks pre-approval to host a demonstration or event on campus.

Because of this broken promise, FIRE sent another letter on July 17 to the university, asking the private institution again to revise its free speech policies.

Their new letter warns the university to fix its policies and not to use coronavirus as an excuse.

The group points out the university had been telling FIRE for almost two years that the policy would be changed but “it appears to have been recently modified in light of the COVID-19 pandemic to expand upon the defects USC committed to cure.”

While the group recognizes that coronavirus has changed some situations, “safety measures implemented during crises too often outlast those crises,” FIRE states.

“Accordingly, we ask that USC: (1) re-evaluate whether eight-weeks’ notice for students to engage in expressive activity is necessary to meet the university’s needs; and (2) establish a periodic timeframe in which this restriction will be reviewed and, once a limitation is no longer justified by the health emergency, will be abandoned,” the group added.

It’s another page in a long two-year battle between USC and FIRE.

The university initially showed an interest in fixing its free speech policies after the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education sent the university a letter in January 2019 asking for it to update its policies which required student groups to get permission two weeks ahead of time before hosting an event on campus.

Just one day after receiving the original letter, Ainsley Curry, the school’s vice president of student affairs, told FIRE that students would no longer be required to get permission two weeks in advance in January 2019.

However, FIRE said a year later in January 2020 the policy had been enforced against a student group to stop them from holding a protest on campus. Furthermore, the pre-approval time had been extended to five weeks.

The group pointed out in its blog post on the new letter that it was seven weeks ago that George Floyd died at the hands of Minneapolis police officers but under the new policy “students wanting to speak out on that topic would still be waiting for official approval to do so.”

The group noted: “USC’s policy would entirely prevent an individual student or student group from organizing a spontaneous, unregistered rally or protest — which is oftentimes necessary to respond effectively to immediate or still-developing news.”

USC currently has a “red light” speech code rating from the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education.

MORE: Public university changes speech policy rather than get sued

IMAGE: Marcos Mesa Sam Wordley/Shutterstock

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About the Author
Associate Editor
Matt has previously worked at Students for Life of America, Students for Life Action and Turning Point USA. While in college, he wrote for The College Fix as well as his college newspaper, The Loyola Phoenix. He holds a B.A. from Loyola University-Chicago and an M.A. from the University of Nebraska-Omaha. He lives in northwest Indiana with his family.