CSU won’t allow the Westboro Baptist Church to demonstrate at the Hughes Stadium CSU-Wyoming game Oct. 12. The church, led by Fred Phelps, is known for his hostile view towards homosexuals.
The church calls their protest a “celebration of the fourth year of Matt Shepard’s entry into hell.”
CSU’s decision brings up the sticky issue of free speech, which has been historically difficult to define in many contexts.
Does CSU have the legal right to prevent these people from protesting the game?
CSU does have such a right.
Many U.S. Supreme Court rulings, like ITALICISE THIS-AP STYLE International Society for Krishna Consciousness v. Heffron (1981), have set a time, place and manner precedent for situations like the one CSU faces now.
The time, place and manner precedent basically allows CSU to restrain speech so long as CSU doesn’t allow any other political speeches at Hughes. Meaning no matter the message, CSU will have a policy forbidding organized and charged political speech at Hughes Stadium.
Also, the government can legally forbid certain speech if it would cause violence. For example, it is illegal to scream “fire” in a movie theater if there is no fire and the purpose is simply to cause a riot. Also, it is illegal to say, “I have a bomb” in an airport.
One could argue that CSU can prevent this demonstration on the grounds that it could cause a riot because the proposal will elicit strong and volatile emotions, especially considering the University of Wyoming will be there and the protestors’ speech is so directly hateful.
So CSU has legal justifications, but we wonder if the administration will uphold its justifications for any other speech group – no matter the message – and whether it will publicly justify its reasoning.
CSU can’t only disallow this protest because it doesn’t like the message, especially in a situation where it would be easy to prevent these people from protesting because they have such a minority viewpoint.
CSU needs to be fair and consistent.
To date, the administration has only said they made this decision because CSU has a designated speech zone – the Lory Student Center Plaza.
CSU is within its legal right, but the administration still needs to morally justify its decision.