School employee tried to threaten student over Trump sign
The University of South Alabama is reminding staff to respect First Amendment rights after a student was threatened with disciplinary action for refusing to remove a Trump sign from his dorm window.
According to an email exchange obtained by Campus Reform, Community Director Dylan Lloyd had requested that student William David Meredith remove a Trump sign from his dorm-room window, stating that it “is against university policy for political signs to be posted in windows, including residence halls.”
“No reasonable person would...presume that the university is endorsing that message.”
“I am asking that you remove the sign within 24 hours. I have included your RA, Tiffany, on this email so that she can check to ensure it is gone within 24 hours,” Lloyd continued, to which Meredith replied by simply stating: “1st Amendment.”
Although Lloyd acknowledged that Meredith does “have the 1st Amendment right,” he also argued that Meredith lives “in a federal building that cannot support political candidates,” and “therefore the sign must be removed.”
Meredith responded by inquiring as to whether “the name of the president and vice president cannot be posted on federal buildings,” and refused to remove the sign from his window.
“The sign in your window is a political sign that shows support for a political candidate,” Lloyd rebutted, threatening that “if it is not removed within 24 hours then this will turn into a judicial case and [Meredith] will have to meet with [him] to discuss breaking policy.”
Meredith again refused to remove the sign, countering Lloyd’s reference to the school’s 501(c)(3) status by noting that he is “not endorsing a political candidate,” but rather the President of the United States.
“The policy you’ve quoted pertains to political candidates, which President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence are not,” Meredith argued. “Nothing on it says anything about campaigning and his campaign is over, which makes it memorabilia not campaign material.”
At one point during the exchange, Lloyd even conceded that Meredith was not actively endorsing a candidate, but went on to argue that “that is how it can be perceived because the sign is in the window of a university owned building.”
“While I understand that, it still shows that the university supports a particular candidate,” Lloyd remarked in response to Meredith’s observation that the campaign season is over. “While we are not actively in campaign season, Trump will run for reelection in four years. The sign makes it look like the university supports Trump as a candidate.”
Meredith yet again refused, and was consequently summoned to attend a “Housing Judicial Conference” with the school’s Assistant Director of Housing Amanda Freyaldenhoven set for April 12.
“If you are found responsible for violating policies, administrative sanctions will most likely be determined at the conclusion of the hearing, even if you do not attend,” Freyaldenhoven’s email stated, asserting that Meredith “will be required to comply with all sanctions administrated [sic] as a result of the findings.”
Alliance Defending Freedom Legal Counsel Travis Barham told Campus Reform that the “University of South Alabama’s position has several flaws,” pointing out that courts have consistently rejected the notion that a public university has an obligation to censor materials such as Meredith’s Trump sign.
“The Supreme Court has long recognized that a university does not endorse everything on campus that it fails to censor,” he explained, noting that “in 1990, the Supreme Court ruled that even elementary school students could understand this, saying ‘[t]he proposition that schools do not endorse everything they fail to censor is not complicated’ [Bd. of Educ. of Westside Cmty. Sch. v. Mergens, 496 U.S. 226, 250 (1990)].”
Barham went on to state that the Supreme Court later “ruled that student can still understand this concept ‘by the time they get to law school [Rumsfeld v. Forum for Acad. & Inst. Rights, Inc., 547 U.S. 47, 65 (2006)],” concluding, “No reasonable person would see a sign in a dorm room window and presume that the university is endorsing that message.”
Campus Reform reached out to Lloyd for comment on the matter, but was told that he is “not allowed to speak on this subject as [he is] not a representative of the university.”
The school’s Executive Director of Marketing and Communications Michael Haskins informed Campus Reform that he “followed up on this issue” and was “told that there was a misunderstanding on the part of a student member of the housing staff regarding their interpretation of the university campaign signage policy.”
Haskins confirmed that Meredith will be allowed to keep the sign in place, saying, “The staff have been instructed as to the proper interpretation and application of university policy, and the student who communicated with you has been informed of the misunderstanding and that the sign is permissible.”
Follow the author of this article on Twitter: @AGockowski