ST. AUGUSTINE, Fla. — Flagler College has retroactively granted permission to a student to exercise her expressive rights with a “free speech ball” event — but only days after the event occurred, and after initially prohibiting her from hosting it at all. Flagler’s decision followed a letter last Friday from the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) warning the school to uphold the student’s rights.
Last Thursday, Flagler administrators told student Kelli Huck that she would not be allowed to host the free speech event she had planned for that Friday because the event was not sponsored by a recognized student group — despite the fact she had twice attempted to form a Young Americans for Liberty chapter on campus. The Student Government Association denied both of her applications for official student group recognition because members perceived the prospective organization as trending “towards one certain political agenda.” FIRE wrote to Flagler earlier in March, urging the administration to overturn the student government’s viewpoint-discriminatory decisions, and is still awaiting a response.
“We are glad that Flagler College ultimately vindicated Kelli’s expressive right to hold a free speech ball event, but the university should never have placed her in the position of having to risk disciplinary action in order to engage in free expression,” said Ari Cohn, director of FIRE’s Individual Rights Defense Program. “The idea that only members of student groups — and not individuals — have a voice on Flagler’s campus is deeply troubling and runs counter to the ideals that Flagler claims to value.”
On Thursday, the day before the free speech ball event took place, Director of Student Activities Timothy Mellon and Vice President of Student Services Daniel Stewart informed Huck that it would be “unfair” if she did not go through the same registration process as student groups. Mellon and Stewart originally warned Huck that she could use only the public road that went through campus, not Flagler’s grounds, essentially saying her voice stops where Flagler’s campus starts.
Even though Flagler is a private university and not legally bound by the First Amendment, it is both morally and contractually bound to honor the it has made to its students.
Following FIRE’s letter, Huck was told that her event was “retroactively approved” and that she was permitted to host her already-completed campus event as an individual.
“Seeing all the different opinions, arguments, positive thoughts, and responses was breathtaking,” said Huck. “Flagler students loved expressing themselves. This is what college is about.”
The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization dedicated to defending liberty, freedom of speech, due process, academic freedom, legal equality, and freedom of conscience on America’s college campuses.