N.Y. students sue university over its speech code

NEW YORK — Two students are hoping that a lawsuit against apublic university in Brockport will force school administrators there to abolisha campus speech code the students claim infringes on their First Amendmentrights.

Lawyers for students Patricia Simpson and Robert Wojick filed thelawsuit in June against the State University of New York at Brockport in afederal district court in Buffalo.

The case is the fourth and most recentlawsuit in a campaign by the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education toabolish speech codes on public campuses across the country. FIRE is a nonprofitorganization that advocates freedom of expression and academic freedom atcolleges and universities.

The students argue that by having a speechcode forbidding certain “offensive” expression on campus, administrators areforcing students to refrain from speaking out about controversialsubjects.

The school’s speech code specifically limits what students cando — from not allowing them to display editorial cartoons depictingreligious figures in compromising situations to making jokes about a person’sethnicity.

Simpson and Wojick, who are members of the SUNY BrockportCollege Republicans and the school’s political science club, claim theirconservative political views increase the risk of punishment by the universitybecause others could find their beliefs offensive.

In the lawsuit, thestudents cite two incidents when faculty members at the university became upsetby political material their groups had been distributing on campus. Although thestudents received no punishment, they claim they are reluctant to distributeadditional material in fear of being punished by the school.

GregLukianoff, director of legal and public advocacy for FIRE, said a ruling infavor of SUNY’s speech code would be catastrophic for student journalists. 

“It would have devastating consequences for student [media],” he said. “Ifsuch an absurdly overbroad policy was upheld, it would harm the student mediaand everyone from artists to politicos to anyone trying to express even the mostmild ideas.”

Because the university is public, the lawsuit argues it isbound by state and federal constitutions to refrain from infringing on astudent’s right to free speech.

Representatives from the universitypresident’s office and the affirmative action office declined to comment aboutthe school’s policies. No court date has been set.

View FIRE’s statement on and links to the speech code at the State University of New York at Brockport.