Student sues Calif. university over punishment for trying to post flier

CALIFORNIA –– A student atCalifornia Polytechnic State University in San Luis Obispo filed a lawsuit infederal court Thursday against the school’s president and otheradministrators, claiming they violated his First Amendment rights by punishinghim for trying to post a flier on campus promoting a conservativespeaker.The suit comes on the heels of legal challenges in Pennsylvaniaand Texas regarding student codes of conduct at public universities and couldeventually impact student journalists.The case stems from an incidentlast November when Steve Hinkle, a member of the Cal Poly College Republicans,attempted to post a flier in the multicultural center on campus advertising aspeech by Mason Weaver, a black conservative author who argues that dependenceon government aid is akin to slavery in his book It’s OK to Leave thePlantation: The New Underground Railroad.When Hinkle, who is white,entered the multicultural center, a group of black students confronted him andasked him not to post the flier because they found it offensive, according totranscripts of testimony at Hinkle’s Judicial Affairs hearing provided byHinkle’s supporters. One student testified that they threatened to callthe police if he did not leave.In their testimony, the students saidthey were holding a Bible study group, though Hinkle claims he did not know thatand had no way of knowing without entering the building.The student whoeventually called the police, identified in hearing transcripts as Student 6,said “I said, ‘Take that elsewhere or I will call publicsafety.’ And that’s when you [Hinkle] tried to debate and I went andcalled public safety because I wasn’t, I wasn’t up forit.”Weaver’s speech took place on campus as scheduled andapproximately 250 people attended.In March, the disciplinary committeeupheld a campus charge against Hinkle for causing a disruption and ordered himto write apology letters to the offended students, the text of which would haveto be approved by school administrators.When Hinkle refused to write theletters, he was warned that he could face further penalties, includingexpulsion.Hinkle could not be reached for comment.Collegeofficials did not immediately respond to requests for comments, but in a Julyletter from Vice President for Student Affairs Cornel Morton, he maintained thatHinkle was disciplined because of his conduct rather than the content of theflier.“Cal Poly supports and upholds freedom of speech as aConstitutional right,” he wrote, “and the University has policies inplace to protect the rights of all parties on campus to pursue learning andotherwise go about their business.”“California StateUniversity regulations regarding ‘time, place and manner’ ofexpression implemented by Cal Poly exist to protect open expression, not stifleit,” he wrote.The lawsuit contends that Hinkle was punished forspeech that students found offensive and seeks to expunge his disciplinaryrecord. In addition, the lawsuit seeks unspecified damages and a restrainingorder to prevent Cal Poly from trying to suppress similar speech.Though the university dropped the requirement that he write letters of apology, the incident remains on his academic record.TheFoundation for Individual Rights in Education and the Center for IndividualRights are supporting Hinkle in his lawsuit.Earlier this month, afederal judge in Pennsylvania issued a preliminary injunction preventingShippensburg University from enforcing a code of conduct that prohibited acts ofintolerance and speech designed to “provoke.”