“guiding principles should be restated”
We ran a full post about this incident over the weekend. Read the full back story here.
FIRE has now released a statement:
FIRE statement on charges against University of Arizona students
For protesting the appearance of Border Patrol agents at a March 19 campus event, two University of Arizona students will reportedly face a misdemeanor charge of interference with the peaceful conduct of an educational institution. Per UA President Robert C. Robbins, both university administrators and university law enforcement are continuing to investigate the incident. More criminal charges and alleged student conduct code violations may follow.
While FIRE continues to gather facts, guiding principles should be restated.
As a public institution, the University of Arizona is fully bound by the First Amendment. The First Amendment protects the right of public college students to engage in peaceful protest. This right protects student speech that listeners may find deeply offensive. Taken alone, the content of the speech at issue here — calling Border Patrol agents “murder patrol” and “an extension of the KKK,” for example — is plainly protected by the First Amendment. Likewise, the call by a Border Patrol agent (with considerable political influence) to investigate and punish students for a letter criticizing the Border Patrol is a clear demand that the university violate the First Amendment.
The First Amendment also protects the right of public college students to hear from the speakers of their choice free from the heckler’s veto. Attempts to prevent a speaker from being seen and heard by an audience are not protected by the First Amendment. However, as FIRE has previously stated, isolated heckling, fleeting disruption, or other expressive activity that does not prevent audience members from seeing and hearing the speaker is generally permissible.
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