ADF Breaks "Abusive" Speech Code at California's Yuba College

Inside the Issues with Alan Sears

Alan Sears, Esquire
ADF President, CEO, & General Counsel

February 3, 2009

In their aggressive determination to keep students from making waves, officials at Yuba College in Sacramento have been harboring some interesting notions about free speech… ideas that doubtless would have made our Founding Fathers a little seasick.

Specifically, the school has been requiring any student wishing to share his views openly to obtain a permit, allowing him to speak only during a specially-allotted two-hour period each week.

Ryan Dozier ran aground on that regulation about a year ago, when he began sharing his faith with some of his fellow students between classes.  He handed out tracts, held up a sign, and engaged people in conversation along the campus walkways.  He was never disruptive and always respectful to passers-by.  He was simply a man with a message – the message of the Gospel.  A campus security officer, however, saw Ryan in action and informed him that he would need a permit to continue such activities.

Free speech, it turned out, was only allowed at Yuba on Tuesdays and Thursdays between 12 and 1 p.m., for those obtaining permission at least two weeks in advance.  No, that's not a misprint.  A student like Ryan, spontaneously sharing his beliefs right out loud and in the open, could face serious consequences if he kept on ignoring the school's speech code.

How serious?  Ryan received a certified letter from the college accusing him of "conducting an assembly without a permit" and violating school policy. The letter stated that his activity was the subject of a district police department crime report and that future violation of the directive and Student Code of Conduct would result in further discipline, including arrest and expulsion from the college. Read more by clicking here.

The threat – not to mention the speech code itself – was so outrageous that Young America's Foundation ranked it first on their list of "Academia's Top 10 Abuses of 2008" (Read about that by clicking here.)

Faced with the ultimatums presented by the college, Ryan contacted the Alliance Defense Fund, and ADF attorneys soon reached a binding legal settlement with Yuba that not only protected his rights, but effectively broke the school's unconstitutional speech code and ended the two-hour-a-week limitations on free expression on campus.

"Christian students shouldn't have to face jail and expulsion for expressing their beliefs on a public college campus," said ADF Litigation Staff Counsel Heather Gebelin Hacker. "We are pleased that Yuba College officials have finally agreed to recognize that its campus policies cannot strip away the free speech rights of students with religious viewpoints."

A copy of the consent order filed with the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of California, Sacramento Division, in the lawsuit Dozier v. Houle is available at ADF-allied attorney Timothy M. Smith, of the Sacramento law firm McKinley and Smith, also represented Dozier in the case.

Please pray for the countless students across America today who, like Ryan Dozier, find themselves persecuted by unlawful speech codes designed to silence free expression and the truth of the Gospel.  Pray, too, for our ADF lawyers as they work on dozens of cases like this across the country, securing First Amendment rights and protections for students, staff, and faculty at our nation's colleges and universities.