Thursday, August 17, 2006

The Collegian on Free Speech Zones

As I wrote yesterday, the CDT report on the revision made to Penn State's "Free Speech Zone" policy (AD51) did a very poor job of explaining what change was made and what the practical consequences of the change will be. It turns out that on August 8th the Collegian reported the same story and it does explain quite succinctly how AD51 was altered this summer.

Penn State Policy AD-51, "Use of Outdoor Areas for Expressive Activities," has also been modified, French said.

It used to list a number of campus locations "designated as areas suitable for expressive activity," including the front of Old Main and the Allen Street Gates.

At the bottom of the list, the policy used to read "Other areas on University property are reserved solely for their intended purposes."

French said removing the sentence opened up the other public areas on campus to speech.

"Deleting that sentence, in our view, changed the meaning of the policy a great deal," he said. "Now it says you can use these specific areas, but you can also use everywhere else," he added.

The policy never said that groups must use the designated areas in order to engage in "expressive activities". It said,"Registered student organizations, or a group of ten or more University students, faculty or staff, may reserve any one of the identified locations..." However, the sentence which was removed was a restriction which said that other areas were off limits to groups of ten or larger. I am not a lawyer, but it does appear that the removal of that sentence from AD51 does indeed neuter the "Free Speech Zone" policy.

While the CDT's headline likely got it right, the reporter did a very poor job of explaining what the changes were. Further it would have been nice to have had the opinion of an independent lawyer concerning the meaning of the change. I would also like to have seen the reporter ask PSU flack Mahon, "What activity would be allowed today that would not have been allow before the University made the current changes to AD51?"

That said, this is very good news.

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