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Public university censors student's fliers protesting censorship

Saginaw Valley State University, a public university located in Michigan, boldly and ironically censored a university student’s flyers about censorship earlier this year.  (Source).

SVSU recently adopted a new policy requiring that all flyers receive approval from the Student Life office prior to posting.  The policy requires that, among other things, the flyers “be in good taste, free from profanity, nudity, or sexually suggestive graphics/phrasing.”  The vague wording of the policy does not define “in good taste.”

Student Daniel Chapman submitted flyers in protest to the new policy, which stated, “”Fuck Censorship, Fuck Oppression, Fuck the Draft. Fight for Free Speech and Political Expression at SVSU and Elsewhere.”  Chapman showed his knowledge of the First Amendment in submitting the flyers, which he explained purposely paralleled the language at issue in Cohen v. California.  In Cohen, the appellant was a Vietnam War protestor who wore a jacket embroidered with the words “Fuck the draft” into a California courthouse.  Cohen was convicted of disturbing the peace by offensive conduct and was sentenced to 30 days in jail.  The Supreme Court overturned the lower court’s ruling that the jacket was offensive conduct, reasoning instead that the jacket was speech protected by the First Amendment.

Despite this, SVSU’s legal counsel informed Chapman that his flyer would not be approved because it contained the word “fuck.”

The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education took up Chapman’s cause.  Thus far, two letters to the school remain unanswered. FIRE plans to take the issue up the chain of command.

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