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ACLU: GSU’s E-Mail Policy Violates Constitution

NEW ORLEANS — A First Amendment issue is brewing at Grambling State University. 

Grambling President Frank Pogue on July 13 issued an e-mail to students, prohibiting political expression via e-mail, said Marjorie Esman, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Louisiana.

“The First Amendment exists to protect speech, including political speech. Grambling students have the right to make political statements, including those in support of political candidates,” Esman said Wednesday in a letter to Pogue. “As a state university, Grambling should encourage its students to respect our Constitution and to exercise their rights. Instead, it has violated those rights by telling students that they may not express their political views.”

Grambling has denied prohibiting students or employees from political expression but had no further comment on the issue.

GSU is “communicating on this matter with legal counsel and the governing board,” said Vanessa Littleton, a spokeswoman for the university.

The university also reissued its e-mail use policy which, among other things, says the university’s e-mail system “shall not be used for the creation or distribution of any disruptive or offensive messages, including offensive comments about race, gender, hair color, disabilities, age, sexual orientation, pornography, religious beliefs and practice, political beliefs or national origin.”

Esman said the university’s response is insufficient.

“Indeed, GSU’s response, rather than addressing our concerns, greatly magnifies them,” she said.

Esman said the July e-mail instructed students that “implying support for a candidate” via e-mail was not allowed and could be “a violation of state policy.”

But, she said, in the letter to Pogue that “a public university may not broadly deny its students the right to engage in such basic political speech. In fact, a university should encourage broad debate on issues of public importance, rather than censor speech.”

She said the university policy contains several unconstitutional restrictions on political expression and other free speech. “This policy cannot stand,” she said.

The ACLU and the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education called on GSU to immediately revise the policy and issue a clarification to the campus community.

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