It is unconstitutional for colleges and universities to stop students from engaging in speech activities based on the views or message they want to express. But at Illinois State University, administrators have the authority to review the content of students’ posters. That means campus administrators can review speech in advance, then subjectively approve or deny it. This is a prior restraint, and it is unconstitutional. For this reason, Southeastern Legal Foundation (SLF) is challenging the University’s poster policy.
In a letter to the University, SLF explains that colleges may only review flyers before students post them to ensure that the flyers are the right size, that students are using appropriate methods to hang the flyers, and that students are not misusing a university trademark in their flyers. These are called time, place, and manner restrictions, and they are usually constitutional. But Illinois State goes beyond those limits when it requires students to receive approval based on the “message content” of their flyers. As SLF explains, that gives campus administrators the authority to assess whether they like the views conveyed in the poster. When government authorities can approve or deny a speaker’s message, it is an unconstitutional prior restraint. SLF demands that the University remove any requirement that students receive advance approval based on the content of their posters or other planned speech activities.