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ACLU Calls Rhode Island College Position That It Is Not Subject to the Constitution “Shocking”

Posted: February 06, 2007|Category: Free Speech Category: Police Practices

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The Rhode Island ACLU today called “shocking” the position advanced by Rhode Island College (RIC) in court papers that RIC does not have to abide by the First Amendment – or any other constitutional restriction, for that matter – because it is not a government agency for civil rights purposes.

The College’s “extraordinary position” was made in a memorandum of law filed in response to the ACLU’s lawsuit against the College for censoring a sign display supporting reproductive freedom that was sponsored by a student women’s rights group on campus. The signs were taken down after administrators received objections about them from a priest. The lawsuit, filed in December by ACLU volunteer attorney Jennifer Azevedo, argues that the college’s actions and a new sign policy adopted in response to the incident violate the First Amendment rights of the student group, the Women’s Studies Organization (WSO) of RIC, and its three student officers, Nichole Aguiar, Sarah Satterlee and Jennifer Magaw.

In the memorandum that has been filed in support of a motion to dismiss the lawsuit, the College argues that RIC “is not a government entity,” that RIC President John Nazarian is not a government employee, and that since “the First Amendment is concerned with government action only,” “plaintiffs are without First Amendment rights vis a vis the College.” 

RI ACLU executive director Steven Brown said today: “Rhode Island College’s position that its campus is a Constitution-free zone is shocking and preposterous, and will no doubt come as a surprise to the thousands of students and faculty members who thought they were attending or working at a public institution. We are confident that the Court will summarily reject this extraordinary position.”

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