- The Washington Times - Friday, January 3, 2020

A free speech litigation group is suing Iowa State University for, among other rules, a ban on sidewalk chalk.

Speech First, a Washington legal nonprofit, filed suit against top Iowa State officials on Thursday in federal court in Iowa, saying the university’s “scheme” of rules and regulations around speech prohibitions violates the First Amendment. The group says the school’s campus climate team and strict rules banning campus digital campaign communications and sidewalk chalking chill speech, especially during the state’s noted first-in-the-nation presidential caucuses.

“This chalking policy was instituted to quell ‘offensive’ and political speech,” the lawsuit says. “And it allows only registered student organizations to advertise events to the exclusion of all other students, in violation of both the First Amendment and Iowa’s campus free-speech law.”

Speech First has frequently targeted universities in First Amendment lawsuits, most recently settling with the University of Michigan over its Bias Response Team accused of chilling free speech.

In a statement issued on Saturday, Iowa State President Wendy Wintersteen defended the school, pointing out ISU “does not punish individuals for their constitutionally protected rights to expression” and, indeed, relies upon diverse, open expression for its university life. Ms. Wintersteen said the school has held numerous speakers and open forums from across the political spectrum.

“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,” said Ms. Wintersteen.

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