Fed Court Rules Against Open Campaigns on Campus

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The University of Maryland's policy on outsiders speaking and distributing leaflets on its College Park campus does not violate the First Amendment, the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals (search) ruled Monday.

The legality of the policy came into play in April 2003 when Michael Reeves, a campaign worker for presidential candidate Lyndon LaRouche (search), was denied a space to hand out fliers in front of Stamp Student Union because all available spaces had been reserved.

The university's policy permits outsiders to speak and distribute fliers on campus if they are sponsored by a university-affiliated group. If an outside group wants to come to campus without sponsorship, they may hand out leaflets in front of the student union building and speak at Nyumburu Amphitheatre adjacent to the union.

In a published opinion written by Judge H. Emory Widener Jr., the court upheld an earlier ruling from the U.S. District Court of Appeals for the District of Maryland at Greenbelt.

Widener wrote that although the University of Maryland is a public university, it is not a public forum for speech in the same way that a city park or sidewalk is. Universities are traditionally non-public forums, but since the University of Maryland's policy allows some outsider speech it becomes a limited public forum, Widener wrote.

As a limited public forum, the university is free to restrict speech within its boundaries as long as the restrictions are "reasonable" and the college does not discriminate based on the viewpoint of those seeking a place to speak or distribute leaflets, the court ruled.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland, which brought the case against the university, disagrees.

"We don't think that a university should be able to create a free speech ghetto," said David Rocah, a staff attorney with the ACLU of Maryland.

Before 2001, outsiders without sponsors had no access to campus at all, said Diane Krejsa, senior university counsel.

"We had a number of outsiders who tried to come to campus," so the university set up a policy to allow that, said Jim Osteen, assistant vice president for student affairs who was student union director at the time the policy was created.

The policy allows up to six groups to leaflet in front of the Stamp Student Union and one group to speak in the Nyumburu Amphitheatre. Student groups and others within the campus community may reserve space far in advance, but outside groups may only reserve space as early as five business days in advance.

These are in the "most heavily trafficked areas on campus," Krejsa said, which is why the university designated them for that purpose.

Chuck Mitchell, president of the University of Maryland ACLU student chapter, said he doesn't think this is an issue the courts and university officials should be dealing with at all. The student body should decide rules on speaking and leafleting on campus through the student government, he said, "because we are the university."

Michael Reeves could not be contacted for comment and the Lyndon LaRouche Political Action Committee in Baltimore was not available for comment.

Capital News Service contributed to this report.