Schreiner's 'Free Speech Policy' is anything but, FIRE warns

Schreiner University's new "Free Speech Policy" is raising concerns among First Amendment advocates, who warn that the policy's "vague" wording could stifle free expression on campus.

The policy requires advance permission for all "free speech activities" and allows administrators to arbitrarily deny individuals access to campus, adding that "hate speech" is not subject to free speech protections on campus.

A First Amendment watchdog is blasting Schreiner University’s controversial “Free Speech Policy,” arguing that the newly drafted rules impose barriers to free expression.

The policy, set to take effect in September, explains that the school graciously seeks to “provide opportunities for free speech” but also to “preserve the academic order of the university.”

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The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), however, told Campus Reform that the restrictions found in the policy are simply “not permissible under First Amendment standards.”

According to the text of the policy obtained by Campus Reform, all “free speech activities” under the new provision require organizers to “petition the Dean of Students Office who will coordinate with administration to approve a reasonable time, place, and manner such activities may take place.”

“Free speech activities” are later defined by the university as “any activity that is open to the public,” with the exception of athletic or fine arts events.  

According to FIRE spokeswoman Laura Beltz, “this is a rather vague restriction as it's unclear whether students can still conduct spontaneous expressive activities on the campus, particularly if events attract members of the public as well.”

[RELATED: Texas college no longer promises ‘freedom of thought’]

The policy also states that the university “reserves the right to restrict or prohibit access to University owned or controlled property,” and may prohibit “certain individuals from being present on University owned or controlled property at any time at its discretion.”

According to FIRE, “such a vague reservation could be applied to restrict the expressive activities of students, or to disinvite a speaker a student group has invited on campus—unacceptable under First Amendment standards.”

“Of further concern,” Beltz continued, “the policy explains that all event costs, including ‘additional security measures as determined by University administration,’ are the responsibility of the organizations sponsoring the event.”

This is problematic, she explained, because “without further criteria for additional security measures, the university has leeway to levy security fees on a student group based on the viewpoint of the speaker that it has invited.”

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Schreiner also includes a clause stating that “hate speech” is not protected by the school’s “Free Speech Policy.”

FIRE contends that “speech that is subjectively seen as hateful is nonetheless fully protected by the First Amendment, unless it's a part of unprotected speech or conduct like harassment or true threats,” Beltz said, adding that banning such speech “is impermissible under First Amendment standards.”

Despite its criticism, however, she also acknowledged that Schreiner is a private university, meaning that the school is “within its rights to restrict access to the campus.”

Nevertheless, she said FIRE warns prospective students that “regulations like this fly in the face of any free speech promises Schreiner makes,” urging them to “be aware their free speech rights may not be fully protected at Schreiner.”

Campus Reform reached out to Schreiner for a response to FIRE's concerns, but did not immediately receive a reply. This article will be updated if and when the university provides a statement.

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