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Won U.S. District Courts

College Republicans at San Francisco State University v. Reed

Beware the Bias Investigators


Many students want to make a positive impact on their own campus.  Rarely can they make a positive impact on 23 campuses and affect more than half a million students.  But that’s exactly what the College Republicans at San Francisco State University did when they took on a university speech code. 

The College Republicans were used to being a dissenting voice on campus, but little did they know that this time, it would land them before a university committee, charged with violating a speech code. 

The College Republicans held an anti-terrorism rally on campus as a way to tell fellow students about the effects of domestic and international terrorism, memorialize the victims of recent terrorist attacks, and prompt conversation on the proper way to combat terrorist groups.  To prepare for the rally, the group painted butcher paper to resemble the flags of Hezbollah and Hamas.  At the rally, group members stepped on the paper “flags” to mimic the way Hezbollah and Hamas protest the United States.  Unbeknownst to College Republicans, both flags contained Arabic script representing the word “Allah.”  When some students in the audience told College Republicans about this, the script was blacked out.  But this did not pacify some.

A week after the rally, a student filed a formal complaint claiming that College Republicans had engaged in “actions of incivility” in violation of university policy.

As it turned out, the California State University System, of which San Francisco State University was a part, maintained a speech code that required students to “be civil” to one another. 

Although College Republicans simply exercised their First Amendment rights, the university conducted a five-month investigation into the group’s activity.  Even after the university cleared the group of the charges, the speech code that enabled the university to investigate and intimidate the College Republicans remained on the books—and affected over half a million students on 23 campuses.  So College Republicans turned to Alliance Defending Freedom for help. 

Alliance Defending Freedom filed a lawsuit on behalf of the College Republicans, and a federal court in San Francisco struck down the speech code, finding that it violated the First Amendment.  In one fell swoop, the College Republicans secured greater liberty for not only themselves, but thousands of their peers throughout California.   

Alliance Defending Freedom fought for these students, and their right to be free from censorship for saying things other students found “offensive.”  Alliance Defending Freedom continues to fight for the rights of many college students like the College Republicans. 

What's at stake

Students’ rights to speak freely in the marketplace of ideas. 

The right to share controversial ideas.

Our role in this case

Alliance Defending Freedom represented College Republicans in a lawsuit against San Francisco State University, and defended their right to speak freely without the fear of censorship.

Case Documents