Court calls handbill removal unconstitutional

MONTANA — A federal appeals court has ruled in favor of a former Montana State University-Northern professor who claims that his First Amendment rights were violated when handbills he posted around campus were systematically removed.

A three-judge panel representing the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ruled in April that Doug Giebel’s First Amendment rights were abridged when posters advertising a lecture Giebel was planning to give at the university were torn down from campus bulletin boards. Giebel v. Sylvester, 244 F.3d 1182 (9th Cir. 2001).

The panel ruled that the removal of the handbills — which announced Giebel’s intention to give a speech called ‘The Regents, the Plan, and Academic Responsibility’ during an on-campus conference addressing intellectual freedom in 1996 — constituted viewpoint discrimination and clearly violated the First Amendment.

Giebel alleges that Stephen Sylvester, his former department chair, is responsible for removing the handbills.

The case will now return to the federal district court in Great Falls, Mont., for the trial, which Giebel said is scheduled for Oct. 22. The case is being sent back to the district court to determine who is responsible for removing the handbills.