Court Says Free Speech Lawsuit Can Move Forward Against ASU

In December attorneys with Alliance Defending Freedom filed a lawsuit in federal court against Arkansas State University after the school attempted to suppress free speech by its students.

ADF says the school has tried to limit speech to sanctioned “free speech” zones. The university’s policy reportedly restricts free speech to 1% of its Jonesboro campus.

Last year, when a student wanted to set up a table outside the student union to generate interest in forming a chapter of the group Turning Point USA on campus, a school administrator stopped her, citing the university’s speech policy.

Arkansas State University asked a court to dismiss ADF’s lawsuit. Today a federal judge rejected ASU’s request, meaning the lawsuit can go forward.

In a statement, Alliance Defending Freedom said,

A federal court Friday rejected Arkansas State University’s request to throw out a lawsuit that challenges the constitutionality of the ASU five-campus system’s restrictive speech policy. Among other things, the policy limits speech to roughly one percent of the Jonesboro campus.

Alliance Defending Freedom attorneys filed the lawsuit in December of last year on behalf of the organizers of a student organization, Turning Point USA, a non-partisan organization that educates students about the importance of fiscal responsibility, free markets, and limited government.

“Public universities can’t function properly as the ‘marketplace of ideas’ when university officials muzzle student free speech,” said ADF Senior Counsel Tyson Langhofer, director of the ADF Center for Academic Freedom. “Arkansas State’s speech policies contain provisions that courts have repeatedly struck down as unconstitutional at other schools, so it was fully appropriate for the court to reject the university’s request to throw out this lawsuit. The university can demonstrate its dedication to the free exchange of ideas by modifying its policies to comport with the First Amendment.”

When ASU student Ashlyn Hoggard and another individual with Turning Point USA attempted to set up a table outside the student union last year to generate interest in forming a chapter on campus, an administrator immediately stopped them, citing the university’s speech policy.

That policy unconstitutionally restricts speech activities to small zones on campus that total about one percent of the campus, requires advance permission for students to use the speech zones, and gives university officials free reign to restrict the content and viewpoint of student speech.

In the opinion and order denying Arkansas State’s motion to dismiss the lawsuit, Turning Point USA at Arkansas State University v. The Trustees of Arkansas State University, the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Arkansas wrote, “The university’s freedom of expression policy requires Hoggard to seek and receive the university’s permission before she is allowed to exercise first amendment freedoms on campus. The policy is a prior restraint on her first amendment rights, as interpreted by the Supreme Court, against which there is a ‘heavy presumption’ of unconstitutionality.”

Ethan Nobles, one of more than 3,200 attorneys allied with ADF, is serving as local counsel on behalf of Turning Point USA.

College campuses used to be places where students could freely exchange ideas. However, we are increasingly seeing attempts by school administrators to restrict speech on campus — especially speech by conservative and pro-life students.

Alliance Defending Freedom has an excellent track record litigating cases like this one in Jonesboro. Given that history — and today’s decision — it seems likely the school’s anti-speech policies will not hold up in court.

Read What Billy Graham Had to Say to Arkansas

In this month’s Family Council update letter, we take a look at what the Rev. Billy Graham had to say to Arkansas when he came to Little Rock in 1989.

We also look at pro-abortion “clergy” blessing abortion clinics, our recent reception honoring Arkansas’ longest married couples, and much more.

Click here to read Family Council’s update letter for March 2018.

Family Council Action Committee to Oppose Proposed Amendment to Cap Value of Life

The following is a press release from Family Council Action Committee. You can see video of Family Council Action Committee’s press conference here.

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Monday, March 5, 2018

At a press conference on Monday, Family Council Action Committee formally announced its opposition to Issue One, a proposed constitutional amendment restricting the amount of money awarded in lawsuits.

Executive Director Jerry Cox released a statement saying, “We oppose Issue One because it puts a price tag on human life. Most people would agree that we should never put a value on human life unless the word ‘priceless’ is involved. Issue One not only puts a dollar value on human life, but a pretty low value at that—just $500,000.”

Cox explained how Issue One places a dollar value on human life. “Issue One is a being billed as a tort reform measure. Sadly, like too many things in politics today, what we’re told and what we will get are two very different things. Issue One limits noneconomic damages in lawsuits at $500,000 for injuries such as pain and suffering or mental anguish. That might be okay when you’re talking about people suing a restaurant because they spilled hot coffee on themselves, but it’s another thing when you’re talking about a grandmother who dies in a nursing home because the facility didn’t take care of her, or if a drunk driver paralyzes your child for life. If your grandmother dies because her nursing home was negligent, you can’t sue the facility for economic damages like lost wages because nursing home residents aren’t employed, which means under the law they have no “economic value” such as lost wages. Noneconomic damages are all they have. Issue One basically guarantees the nursing home won’t have to pay more than $500,000 if it is responsible for your grandma’s death.”

Cox said Issue One treats young children, elderly adults, and others who do not earn an income as if their lives are not as valuable as everyone else’s. “This amendment sets the going rate for people killed or injured due to the negligence of others. Retired husband or wife: $500,000. Homemaker with four young children, but no outside income: $500,000. Mentally-disabled child: $500,000. Family man on disability: $500,000. But wealthy wage earners are treated better. They could collect millions of dollars in economic damages because of projected future earnings and lost wages. “Currently, any resident of a long-term health care facility who is abused or neglected can take the case to court. This goes for all other injury lawsuits, as well. There, a jury of everyday Arkansans hears the facts of the case and then awards damages based on what they believe to be fair and just. This jury system is a guaranteed constitutional right enjoyed by every person. After all, everyone who needs it should have their day in court and expect justice. Issue One is an insult to justice. Issue One ties the hands of judges and juries by letting the State set an arbitrary, one-size-fits-all value of no more than $500,000 in noneconomic damages,” Cox said.

Cox said Issue One ultimately does not stop frivolous lawsuits. “The backers of this amendment could have written a proposal that focused on preventing lawyers from enriching themselves on frivolous lawsuits. They could have written an amendment that addressed some of the medical malpractice problems that good physicians face. Instead they wrote an amendment that puts a price tag on human life and leaves the door wide open for the nursing home industry to neglect our loved ones. Nursing home neglect already is too common, even with the threat of huge lawsuits. If Issue One passes, that problem is simply going to get worse.”

Family Council Action Committee Political Director Ken Yang rolled out a seven-point plan for defeating Issue One. The plan includes rallying faith leaders, mobilizing a statewide grassroots network, a direct mail and social media effort, conducting speaking engagements, earned media, voter’s guides, and a get-out-the-vote campaign.

Family Council Action Committee is a conservative 501(c)(4) organization based in Little Rock, Arkansas.

###