5th Circuit strikes down part of university’s free-speech policy

A federal appeals court said universities cannot require a security fee for speaking on campus without any guidelines for what security is needed.

July 28, 2010


NEW ORLEANS — The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled yesterday that Southeastern Louisiana University’s free-speech policy is unconstitutionally vague on that point.

Jeremy Sonnier challenged the policy after trying to evangelize individual students on Nov. 19, 2007. He was told to leave because he hadn’t applied for a permit seven days earlier.

The 5th Circuit noted that Sonnier challenged five provisions of the speech policy: “(1) the seven-day notice requirement; (2) the two-hour, once-per week limitation; (3) the collection of personal information; (4) the security fee requirement; and (5) the limitation of speech to three specific locations.”

Yesterday’s majority ruling in Sonnier v. Crane rejected Sonnier’s challenges against the other provisions of the free-speech policy.

5th Circuit Judge James L. Dennis agreed with his colleagues on the three-judge panel that the security-fee provision should be struck down. Dennis went further, however, arguing that at least as applied to Sonnier, the other provisions were also unconstitutional.

Sonnier’s case will now return to the federal trial court.

First Amendment Center Online staff contributed to this report.