Advocacy Group Drops Free Speech Lawsuit Against Iowa State

Speech First filed a lawsuit against Iowa State after it banned writing political messages on campus sidewalks using chalk.

Advocacy Group Drops Free Speech Lawsuit Against Iowa State

A free speech advocacy group has dropped its lawsuit against Iowa State University (ISU) regarding its temporary ban on using chalk to write political messages on campus sidewalks.

Speech First, which aims to protect students’ free speech rights on campus, filed the lawsuit on Jan. 2 on behalf of three anonymous conservative ISU students, stating the school was  “severely limiting students’ ability to participate in chalking.”

“Our student members at Iowa State University deserve major credit for their vigilance in defense of their speech rights,” said Speech First President Nicole Neily. “[A]nd I have no doubt that if the University’s new policies are used to chill students’ speech in the future, our members will notify us immediately.”

The ban was implemented after offensive messages led to protests by the ISU campus group Students Against Racism, according to The Washington Times. In addition to chalk banning, the lawsuit claimed the university banned using school email accounts to solicit support for a political candidate or ballot issues as the Iowa caucuses neared.

Attorneys for the school said it is only faculty or staff that were banned from using school-issued emails to solicit political activity.

The group dropped its lawsuit Friday, just two weeks after the university responded to it in U.S. District Court in Des Moines. ISU agreed to make several permanent changes, including allowing sidewalk messaging and dropping the email policy, reports Courthouse News.

“It’s unfortunate that the school changed its policies only after the Iowa caucuses, impacting students’ ability to fully participate in that important process,” Speech First wrote in a statement. “These students deserved better, and parents who are considering where to send their students to ISU in the future should bear that in mind.”

A statement from the university said the changes it made “showed that Iowa State’s policy and practice does not unconstitutionally restrict speech based on the content of speech or the viewpoint of the speaker. Moreover, the allegations of suppression made by Speech First were simply not true.”

As part of the settlement, both parties will pay for their own attorneys’ fees and other expenses and neither admitted to any liability or lack of merit in any claim or defense.

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