USF student government forbids student leadership candidates from talking to school paper, potentially violating 1st Amendment

Student Government candidates at the University of South Florida were recently forbidden from speaking to The Oracle, the school newspaper.

One free speech advocate condemned the decision, saying: ‘You cannot preempt speech. That’s the beginning, middle and end of it.’

Student government officials at the University of South Florida (USF) recently made a decision that may have potentially violated the free speech rights of new student candidates. 

Candidates running for Student Government at USF, located in Tampa, were recently told not to speak to the school newspaper, The Oracle, while on campaign, according to a Feb. 25 article from the outlet.

[RELATED: Report finds that 20% of US colleges ‘clearly and substantially restrict free speech’]

USF’s Elections Rules Commission (ERC) told candidates they had to refuse any campaign-related interviews with The Oracle, the student paper reported.

Bobby Block, executive director for the First Amendment Foundation (FAF), said that shutting down interviews with The Oracle would mean that the ERC would “be in violation of the law and the First Amendment.” 

”You cannot preempt speech,” Block stated. “That’s the beginning, middle and end of it.” 

FAF is a Florida-based non-profit focused on ensuring “that public commitment and progress in the areas of free speech, free press, and open government do not become checked and diluted during Florida’s changing times.”

The ERC allegedly made the decision to ban interviews with the student paper due to a potential violation of USF Student Government Statute 706.5.3.1, The Oracle wrote. 

Statute 706.5.3.1 prohibits candidates from “using [Activity and Service] funded materials to further their campaign (except for anything printed via the free printing locations and Bulls Media services),” with “Activity and Service” referring to certain funds that students provide, as The Oracle noted. 

[RELATED: YAF chapter sues University at Buffalo officials for violating First Amendment rights]

Campus Reform has previously reported on numerous First Amendment violations that have occurred on college campuses. In January, Campus Reform reported about a lawsuit against Texas State University that alleged that “the Texas State University and System, along with their officials, have a speech code that punishes students for engaging in protected speech.”

Campus Reform has reached out to USF, the ERC, The Oracle, and FAF for comment. This article will be updated accordingly.