University of Maryland Students Seek to Overturn Free Speech Ban at College Park Campus

Affiliate: ACLU of Maryland
March 6, 2003 12:00 am

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GREENBELT, MD-The American Civil Liberties Union and a private Washington law firm today filed a lawsuit on behalf of students at the University of Maryland at College Park who are challenging a university policy that places unreasonable restrictions on outdoor public speaking and leafleting on the university’s 1,500-acre campus.

“I came to College Park for a great education but I also expected a free exchange of ideas outside as well as inside the classroom,” said Daniel Sinclair, a junior at the university and plaintiff in the case. “I would like to get out the word about student activities that I am involved in, but the University’s policies stand in the way – and also frustrate my ability to hear what others have to say.”

The lawsuit, ACLU Student Chapter – University of Maryland, College Park et al. v. C.D. Mote, Jr. was filed on behalf of Sinclair and Rebecca Sheppard, who claim that the ban on speech violates their First Amendment rights to both express themselves and to hear the speech of others in the open spaces on campus. The ACLU Student Chapter of the University of Maryland, College Park is also a plaintiff in the case.

At issue are campus policies which state: “Public speaking is limited to the Nyumburu Amphitheatre stage. Public speaking elsewhere on campus is prohibited.” According to the lawsuit, the rules apply to speech by all individuals, including students and staff, and groups not sponsored by student organizations. Public speaking is broadly defined to include “speech directed to a general audience or non-specific persons.” The rules also state that “distribution of literature is limited to designated sidewalk space outside the Stamp Student Union building. . . . . Distribution of literature elsewhere on campus is prohibited.” The rules are available online at

“Not only is the University’s policy blatantly unconstitutional, but it is also unworthy of this great institution,” said Anthony Epstein, lead attorney for the plaintiffs. “As the courts have said, universities are a quintessential marketplace of ideas, but College Park’s policy shuts that marketplace down.”

Plaintiffs in the case are represented by Anthony C. Epstein and Michael C. Drew of Steptoe & Johnson LLP in Washington, D.C.; David Rocah of the ACLU of Maryland; and Arthur B. Spitzer of the ACLU of the National Capital Area.

The ACLU’s legal complaint is online at /node/34975

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