JONESBORO, Ark. (AP) — Arkansas State University is committed to free speech rights, the university system’s top lawyer said after U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos criticized the campus’ free speech policy.
DeVos mentioned the university at an event at the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia on Monday while denouncing actions taken by some college administrators regarding free speech, the AP reported. The education secretary noted the case of Arkansas State student Ashlyn Hoggard who was recruiting on campus last year for conservative group Turning Point USA.
Hoggard “wanted to recruit for a student organization she was founding, but soon learned it first had to be approved by the university,” DeVos said. “Even then, she still had to apply for a permission slip to distribute materials. And all of the activity had to occur within the confines of a ‘speech zone,’ typically obscure, small, cordoned-off corners of campus where free expression is ‘permitted.'”
Hoggard was later removed from campus by a university administrator and a campus police officer, DeVos said.
“As the purpose of learning is forgotten, ignored or denied, we are inundated daily with stories of administrators and faculty manipulating marketplaces of ideas,” she said.
ASU System General Counsel Brad Phelps said the university “is committed to the First Amendment with policies and procedures that are designed to further that right and not restrict it.”
Phelps declined to comment further because of an ongoing federal lawsuit filed in December over the Hoggard incident.
The Alliance Defending Freedom, a nonprofit that advocates for religious freedom, sued the ASU System on behalf of Hoggard and Turning Point USA to challenge the constitutionality of the school’s speech zone policy. The school’s policy dates back to 1998 and sets times and places for speeches and demonstrations, distributions of written materials and marches.
The university has denied that fundamental rights to freedom of speech and due process of law were violated.