Free speech under scrutiny in Ames, Iowa

Thursday, January 9, 2020
Chris Woodward (

college students on laptopsAn organization that defends students' free-speech rights has filed for a preliminary injunction in its case against Iowa State University.

"Iowa State has three specific policies on the books that we feel have both the purpose and the effect of discouraging students from talking about controversial issues," explains Nicole Neily, president and founder of Speech First, a national membership organization of students and concerned citizens created to defend students' rights on campus through litigation.

The three policies being challenged, she continues, are: "a ban on chalking, writing on the sidewalk in chalk; a prohibition on student emails related to campaigns and election; and a campus climate reporting system, where students are actually encouraged to use a university portal to tattletale on their fellow students for using alleged bias or hateful language."

This is the first time Iowa State has come across Speech First's radar, says Neily.


"Other lawsuits we filed to date have been against the University of Michigan, University of Texas at Austin, and University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign," says the group's leader. "We take them as they come in and we had some people reach out to us in the fall saying that there were some bad things going on at Iowa State [and that] we should look into it. The more we dug, the more we realized there was a big problem."

It's unknown as to when Speech First and Iowa State will be in court.

"In our case against University of Texas, the judge took six months to issue his ruling on our preliminary injunction motion," she explains. "The Iowa Caucuses are on February 3, so hopefully we'll see an expedited schedule."

This series of policies, according to Neily, has "significantly burdened [ISU students] from participating in the political process" leading up to next month's presidential caucuses.

OneNewsNow sought for and received the following comments from Iowa State University:

"Iowa State University does not punish individuals for their constitutionally protected rights to expression, nor do we have policies or practices that prohibit expression based on the content of the expression or the viewpoint of the speaker. As a public institution, Iowa State University fully embraces its role as a First Amendment campus and is deeply committed to constitutional protections of free expression. The protections afforded by the First Amendment and similar provisions in the Iowa Constitution are core values of the university and are foundational to the university's mission to create, share, and apply knowledge to make Iowa and the world a better place. Constitutional free speech provisions are designed to establish and protect the 'free marketplace of ideas' that is a fundamental characteristic of university life.

"In light of our commitment to these constitutional values, our campus has been and will continue to be a place where a diversity of ideas and thoughts will be expressed and debated. In this past semester, we have had numerous speakers and guests expressing a wide variety of thought. We have had political candidates and elected officials from all political parties on campus and held open forums where political issues were discussed and debated. Unfortunately, our campus has also experienced bigoted, hateful, racist, and anti-Semitic messaging that, while protected by the First Amendment, is also hurtful and harmful to many students.

"Iowa State University also takes seriously its obligation mandated by federal law to create and maintain a campus that is free from illegal discrimination and harassment. Iowa State University will continue to champion the First Amendment in our efforts to create a campus where all individuals and ideas are welcome and included."


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