Are public colleges permitted to put any restrictions on the student groups that they will recognize? What if activities advocated by a group are illegal?

The Supreme Court spoke to this issue in Brandenburg v. Ohio (1969), in which it held that even those statements (or student groups, in this case) that advocate violation of the law are protected speech under the First Amendment unless they threaten “imminent lawless action.” This principle was tested recently by the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Gay Lesbian Bisexual Alliance v. Pryor, where the state of Alabama passed a statute that prevented state universities from recognizing or distributing funds to student groups that promoted lifestyles prohibited under the state’s sodomy laws. The court found that the GLBA did not promote “imminent lawless action,” and that any statute intended to restrict the group’s otherwise-protected advocacy of a nontraditional lifestyle was inherently unconstitutional.

Category: Freedom of Speech