Divest UO pleads first amendment infringement over banner removal
The speech is protected; the banner is not.
That’s the line that University of Oregon administration is holding regarding to the Divest UO banner that campus operations removed from Johnson Hall last week.
Divest UO members find the timing suspicious, considering the sign had been in place since February without any incident. According to Maddie Cheek, a Divest member, campus operations was reluctant to answer questions about the timing of the removal, saying that the question sounded “like a political one.”
Phil Carroll was the representative that Cheek spoke to at the time. He said in an email Wednesday afternoon that he and his crew “commonly remove signs, flyers, chalk and other postings on campus when they are not in locations that have been approved.”
The divest movement has recruited the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education to assess if its first amendment rights are indeed being suppressed. Marieke Tuthill Beck-Coon is the FIRE representative working with Divest.
“We are closely monitoring the situation and are in contact with students from the Divest group to learn more about their interactions with the administration regarding the banner,” Beck-Coon said via email.
This is not the first time that Oregon has caught the attention of FIRE. Last year, a request for funding by Young Americans for Liberty to host a “Liberty Poker Night” was denied because ASUO members argued that they and other students felt “unsafe.” YAL was going to give away firearms as Poker Night prizes. In response, FIRE reminded the university that “funding to student organizations must be distributed in a viewpoint-neutral manner.” However, a second request by YAL was denied a week later.
This and other events have marred the university’s image in the eyes of FIRE. According to the organization, Oregon has a speech code rating “Red,” meaning that they have “at least one policy that both clearly and substantially restricts freedom of speech.”
University spokesman Tobin Klinger maintains that the group’s right to express its concerns is valid and welcomed; however, the unmanned sign is not. Citing the historical practice of revolving signs and banners on campus as well as campus-provided free speech zones, Klinger insisted that the administration has no issue with the protesters message.
The Divest group will continue its campaign, though it will come in a reformed fashion. The sit-in of Johnson Hall will come to an end during next week’s Earth Week celebration. Divest UO is capping its protest with a political theater event in the afternoon on April 21.
In addition, the group has banded together with several other universities to create a divestment fund. According to Cheek, this fund will “allow donors to put money into a fund that will ultimately go to the UO if they commit to divest from fossil fuel extraction companies.”