RELATED: University Requires Students to Apply For “Free Speech Permits”

Hey, budding adults! Welcome to college! Now, kindly shut up for the next few years.

Cal Poly Pomona’s campus policies impose a web of restrictions before students can distribute literature on campus: They must check in with the Office of Student Life, allow the school to copy their IDs, and wear badges signed by an administrator. Even then, would-be speakers are relegated to the so-called “free speech zone.” Badges can only be issued from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. on weekdays, although the Office of Student Life pledges to “work with” any student who wishes to engage in expressive activity on evenings or weekends. Additionally, students must register in advance for outdoor events, and the Office of Student Life must approve all flyers and posters.

That’s what the First Amendment has been reduced to at Cal Poly Pomona: asking permission, wearing “free speech” badges and a standing-room-only patch of ground. These restrictions have prompted a lawsuit from student Nicolas Tomas, who alleges campus police prevented him from handing out pro-vegan fliers on a campus sidewalk and directed him to jump through the college’s many speech-curbing hoops before exercising his First Amendment rights.

Despite being a public college — which should encourage it to keep its free speech meddling to a minimum — Cal Poly Pomona continues to issue policy-related “Presidential Orders” that strip away students’ First Amendment rights. Because some of these orders haven’t been made public, they’re open to abuse, as Tomas points out in his lawsuit.

Together, the policies establish an unconstitutional “free speech zone” and impose unconstitutional prior restraints on expressive activities that limit free expression at Cal Poly Pomona.

The policies are contradictory, confusing, and do not provide adequate notice to students regarding Cal Poly Pomona’s policies on free expression. For example, the Student Life webpage on the Cal Poly Pomona website provides links to the Interim Freedom of Expression Policy (dated 2002) and the 2008 Presidential Order policies, but not the 2014 Presidential Order.

The inconsistent policies allow administrators to pick and choose provisions that they are going to enforce, allowing them unlimited discretion to promote or silence speech based on its content or the identity of the speaker.

At some point between March 5th and today’s date, CPP personnel updated the site to include the missing 2014 Presidential Order. No new link is provided, nor has the title of the existing link [“New Presidential Order: Use of University Buildings, Facilities, or Grounds (PDF)”] been altered. Only the destination document has. Instead, whoever was in charge of this simply swapped out the 2008 Order for the 2014 Order without any indication this change had taken place. Crafty.

Cal Poly Pomona vows to respect your free speech rights, provided you inform the administration 10 days in advance, are granted permission to speak and are willing to wear a speech permit while remaining in the properly-designated area. That’s just not how free speech works. Tomas is hoping his lawsuit will result in the school’s policies being found unconstitutional. Even if Tomas can’t get the constitutionality declaration and permanent injunction he’s requesting (along with damages and costs), maybe his efforts will push the school to reconsider its policies.


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