Court suspends ban on speech that 'provokes'

PENNSYLVANIA — A federal judge issued a preliminary injunction in September to prevent Shippensburg University from enforcing portions of its student conduct code that he said may violate the First Amendment.

U.S. District Judge John Jones III issued the ruling after finding that sections of the code designed to promote tolerance restricted students’ free speech rights on the public university campus and were likely to be found unconstitutional in future proceedings.

“On its face,” Judge Jones wrote, “it is apparent that the Code of Conduct prohibits speech that is protected by the First Amendment.”

His injunction prohibits enforcement of rules that prevent students from communicating in ways that might “provoke, harass, intimidate or harm another.”

Though the school claimed the lawsuit was irrelevant because the code had not been enforced for years, “Having the rules simply on the book showed students that the school was not tolerant of everyone’s beliefs and attitudes,” said Walter Bair, a junior at the school and plaintiff in the case. 

Bair, one of two students involved in the lawsuit, sued after school administrators forced students to remove anti-Osama Bin Laden posters from dorm room doors. Administrators at the public school deemed the posters, which featured Osama Bin Laden in cross hairs, offensive to the campus community. 

Recent Shippensburg graduate Ellen Wray sued because of what she said was a lack of tolerance on campus for all opinions. 

“I was tired of the school’s code and [the] constant feeling of my free speech being suppressed,” Wray said.  “Because I was conservative, I wasn’t subject to the same rights as others.”

CASE: Bair v. Shippensburg University, 280 F.Supp.2d 357 (M. D. Pa. 2003).