Dixie State University modifies free speech policies after students file lawsuit

Posted at 6:24 PM, May 07, 2015
and last updated 2015-05-07 20:24:39-04

ST. GEORGE, Utah - Dixie State University will have revised free speech policies this fall.

DSU President Richard Williams sent an email to faculty and staff Monday, saying administrators had suspended various parts of policies that could be a violation of First Amendment rights. The change comes after three students filed a lawsuit against the school in March.

William Jergins, Joey Gillespie and Forrest Gee are the plaintiffs in that lawsuit. They said while promoting their Young Americans for Liberty club, administrators told them fliers with satirical images of former President George W. Bush and Cuban revolutionary leader Che Guevara could not be posted on campus.

“[A secretary] came back and said, 'I can approve only two of these flyers,'” Jergins said. “'These ones depicting individuals are denied on this grounds,' and pointed to the policy which it violated, mocking individuals or groups.”

Jergins said administrators also violated First Amendment rights by requiring a free speech event to be held in a remote corner of campus.

“We’re saying essentially that the Constitution exists, that legal protections matter,” Jergins said.

In his email, Williams said in part, “Although I am troubled that these students would not bring their concerns to me before seeking such drastic measures, it has brought to our attention the need to update and revise some of our university policies.”

Utah Assistant Attorney General Joni Jones said they will sit down with administrators and students to revise those policies to more accurately represent First Amendment rights.

“Many of these rules have some sort of practical basis, and they weren’t created with the First Amendment in mind necessarily,” Jones said. "So that was kind of how there was a hodgepodge of different rules that developed.”

Jergins said he took offense to the notion that they didn’t try to resolve the issue with administrators. He said they did on multiple occasions.

“We were told flatly 'no,'” Jergins said. "We were certain at the time, and we’re still certain, that this was the only way to keep our constitutional rights from being trampled on on this campus.”

A university spokesperson couldn’t comment directly on the case, but released this statement:

"Dixie State University is committed to protecting and fostering the free exchange of ideas in the University and on campus. University community members have the right to freedom of speech and assembly without prior restraint or censorship, subject to clearly stated, reasonable, and nondiscriminatory rules and regulations regarding time, place, and manner.”

Revised policies should take effect this fall. Jergins said as long as they protect freedom of speech, there will be no need further need for a lawsuit.