The UCLA Center for Student Programming revised its student group flier policy last month after receiving a letter from a conservative Christian organization stating that the policy violated the First Amendment’s protection of free speech.
A provision in the former policy prohibited groups from posting material that promoted “demeaning social stereotypes based on race, ethnicity, culture, gender or sexual orientation.”
Alliance Defending Freedom, formerly known as the Alliance Defense Fund, is an association of Christian attorneys and organizations that aims to protect religious freedom and other constitutional rights. It wrote a letter to the center in late April calling the policy “vague,” “overbroad” and a prior restraint on free speech.
In the letter, the alliance warned it would take legal action if UCLA officials did not revise the policy.
Two months after receiving the letter, officials at the Center for Student Programming, which registers and advises student organizations, removed the provision regarding social stereotypes.
The revised policy states that only the time, place and description of a group event may be included on materials posted around campus, according to the center’s website.
All material must still be evaluated and approved for compliance with the UC’s anti-discrimination policies, which prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identification, disability, race, ethnicity, religion and other classifications in university programs and activities, by the Center for Student Programming before being posted.
The letter from Alliance Defending Freedom, which is available on its website, stated that the UCLA policy did not describe precisely what was prohibited. Consequently, any flier content could possibly be deemed a violation of the policy and removed ““ including religious and political content that is protected by the First Amendment.
Mike Cohn, department head of the Center for Student Programming, said the center had not had many problems or received any complaints with respect to the old policy provision regarding stereotypes. Heather Hacker, a lawyer for the Alliance Defending Freedom who signed the letter, said that, to the alliance’s knowledge, no student or student group at UCLA has been punished for violating the former provision.
In the letter the alliance said it would pursue judicial review of the policy and a federal lawsuit if UCLA did not notify the alliance by May 25 that it would make the recommended revisions.
Hacker said members of the alliance discovered the flier policy on the student programming website.
The letter to UCLA is one of many the alliance has sent to universities across the country as part of the organization’s recent efforts to protect free speech on college campuses, Hacker said.
“It’s fairly common, and so we set out with a goal to try to make the universities aware of the problems with their policies,” Hacker said.
The old flier policy, which had been in effect for many years, was written the way it was because similar wording had been used at other universities, Cohn said.
“(UCLA officials) received the inquiry, took a look at the policy, and found that we wanted to make a modification that better represents what we were trying to say,” Cohn said. “We were happy to review (the policy).”
Many student group members said they were unaware of the provision regarding stereotypes from the old policy, including Matt Abularach-Macias, internal vice chair for the Latino student organization MeCHA de UCLA, and Kamilah Moore, vice chair for the Afrikan Student Union.
The center asks student groups to comply with student group policies when they register or re-register each fall, Cohn said. Groups are also told in the fall where to find information regarding the policies online and are notified of any changes, he added.
Abularach-Macias said he did not know about the fliering policy because it has not been a noticeable issue on campus. He added, however, that even though the old stereotypes provision had not become a large problem while it was in effect, the revised policy should still include more specific guidelines about what derogatory content is prohibited.
Both Abularach-Macias and Moore said they were concerned that the policy change might adversely affect campus climate.
“I don’t think it’s a good idea to have that freedom to promote negative things about different people,” Abularach-Macias said.
Moore added, however, that she hopes UCLA officials will use their best judgment in deciding whether certain fliers will make students feel marginalized or uncomfortable.