September 20, 2012

Student groups denied permission to protest outside Paul Ryan rally on campus

Newport News, VA – The American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia today sent a letter to Christopher Newport University urging the administration to revise its demonstration policy to ensure the First Amendment rights of students, staff and faculty.
According to the Daily Press, CNU has a policy requiring students to give ten business days notice before a demonstration on campus.  Student organizers asked administrators for an exception to the rule because the Paul Ryan rally was not publicly announced until Sunday, which allowed for just one business day’s notice.  The administration denied the student’s request saying it would not make an exception.
“CNU’s policy is clearly in need of revision,” said ACLU of Virginia Executive Director Claire G. Gastañaga.  “These students made a good faith effort to comply with the school’s rules in order to exercise their free speech rights, but were still denied.  The school’s policy is out of line with First Amendment principles.”
In her letter to Kevin Hughes, CNU’s Dean of Students, ACLU of Virginia Legal Director Rebecca Glenberg writes: “The First Amendment right to free speech is meaningless if citizens may not react to events – especially political events – as they arise.  Thus, courts have repeatedly held that even though some notice of planned demonstrations may be required, there must be an exception for “spontaneous” demonstrations held in reaction to current events.”
“It is very disconcerting that an institution of higher education, which is supposed to educate young people, has instead abridged their constitutional rights,” added Gastañaga. “We hope the administration will use its meeting with the student general assembly as a learning opportunity, and turn this unfortunate event into a worthwhile civics lesson, for both administrators and students.”
This is not the first time CNU has had trouble with the First Amendment.  Earlier this year, unnamed staff members ordered the removal of copies of the student newspaper, The Captain’s Log, from distribution stands along prospective students’ campus tour routes because the front page story was a piece about a possible meth lab on campus.  CNU President Paul Trible condemned the act and suggested it was simply overzealous staffers eager to put CNU in a positive light for prospective students.  In 2011, there was another incident involving the removal of copies of the student paper, this time by a student who was unhappy with an article about the arrest of a former CNU police officer on charges of fraud and forgery.
A copy of the ACLU’s letter sent today can be found online at:

Contact: Claire Gastañaga, Executive Director, 804-644-8022