South Dakota University Ditches Policy Used By Official To Silence Pro-Gun Students


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Alexa Schwerha Contributor
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UPDATE: This story has been updated to include a statement from Black Hills State University (BHSU) and Young Americans for Liberty (YAL).

Black Hills State University (BHSU), located in South Dakota, removed a policy that allowed for officials to remove any “objectionable” person from campus after it was used to silence pro-gun students from speaking on campus, the free speech watchdog Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression (FIRE) reported.

Young Americans for Liberty (YAL) students were surveying students about the second amendment in January when they were told by BHSU Director of Public Safety Phil Pesheck that they could not continue the activity because they had not filled out proper forms, despite students and student organizations being exempt, FIRE reported. Pesheck cited a policy that gives officials the right to “eject any objectionable person or persons from the premises upon the exercise of authority through any agent or police personnel.” (RELATED: University Will Eliminate ‘Free Speech Zones’ After Legal Pressure)

“Black Hills State University’s expressive activity request form previously allowed the university to remove any individual it subjectively determined was ‘objectionable’ from campus,” Sabrina Conza, FIRE program officer, told the Daily Caller News Foundation. “Providing administrators such broad authority to silence anyone whose views they dislike or consider ‘objectionable’ flies in the face of students’ and faculty’s First Amendment rights at BHSU’s public university campus.”

Pesheck later apologized for the incident after the students informed the university president of what had happened, according to FIRE. The speech watchdog wrote to the university on Jan. 31 to ask they remove the policy from the Request Form for Expressive Activity and alleged that it would be used to silence opinions university officials disagree with.

FIRE reminded BHSU that the “Supreme Court has repeatedly, consistently, and clearly held that government actors may not restrict expression on the basis that others find it offensive,” according to the letter.

“People and ideas that authorities view as ‘objectionable’ are the entire reason the First Amendment exists,” JP Kirby, YAL director of student rights, told the DCNF. “When bureaucrats defend policies like these they are admitting to all of us that they are willing to use their own viewpoints to discriminate against speakers they disagree with. I’m glad we were able to remove this policy and once again send a message to BHSU administration that their students are too vigilant for the admins to get away with this sort of censorship.”

“The policy now allows administrators to remove those violating the university’s content- and viewpoint-neutral time, place, and manner policies, rather than giving administrators authority to censor disfavored opinions,” Conza told the DCNF.

The revised policy clarifies that officials can object people “for disrupting or interfering with campus operations,” Becca Walters, BHSU senior director of marketing and communications, told the DCNF. This change “was done to avoid any uncertainty or misinterpretation within the policy.”

Pesheck did not immediately respond to the Daily Caller News Foundation’s request for comment.

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