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Mizzou Embroiled In New Censorship Battle Over Marijuana

REUTERS/Ivan Alvarado

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Guy Bentley Research Associate, Reason Foundation

The University of Missouri has been accused of censorship by one of the nation’s leading free speech organizations.

The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) warned Mizzou that it is violating the First Amendment rights of its students by refusing to allow a recognized campus chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) to make T-shirts featuring a cannabis leaf and the university’s name.

“Mizzou flatly told MU NORML that it was censoring the group’s T-shirt artwork because of the message it could appear to express. That’s viewpoint discrimination, and it’s prohibited by the First Amendment,” said FIRE Vice President of Legal and Public Advocacy Will Creeley on FIRE’s website. (RELATED: SHOCKER: After Caving To Race Protesters, Mizzou Is STILL Trolling For Students For This Fall)

MU NORML wanted to sell T-shirts featuring a marijuana leaf in the form of the Mizzou campus skyline in 2015. The group was denied permission to do so because the T-shirt included the name “University of Missouri – Columbia.”

Mizzou claimed MU NORML’s application was denied because it used the university’s name “in connection with the promotion of alcohol, tobacco or other drugs.” The group’s President Benton Berigan protested the society existed to reform marijuana laws and did not advocate the use of any substances.

Mizzou administrators responded that the use of “an image of a cannabis leaf in conjunction with university icons could be considered a form of endorsement.” (RELATED: Shocker: After Caving To Protests, Mizzou Has HUGE Budget Gap)

FIRE attempted to explain to Mizzou officials they couldn’t deny the group’s application because they disagreed with their views on marijuana and that there was legal precedent banning public universities from censoring speech because students’ views may be misinterpreted as the views of the university.

“MU NORML is a student organization created to facilitate an educational dialogue regarding the history and policy implications of our nation’s marijuana laws among students and faculty at the University of Missouri,” said Berigan, according to FIRE. “The university’s decision is an immediate threat to students’ intellectual freedom and First Amendment rights.”

“Political speech is accorded the greatest protection of any form of expression under our Constitution,” said Dan Viets, an attorney with the Missouri Civil Liberties Association and Missouri State Coordinator for NORML. “MU should encourage vigorous and open discussion, but all too often suppresses it because of misplaced fear of controversy and political repercussions.”

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