Eagle Forum Legislative Alerts

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Free Speech On Campus Vindicated

A student expelled from a public college for questionable reasons has been vindicated, and has been awarded $900,000 in the process. In 2007, Hayden Barnes was a student at Georgia’s Valdosta State University. The school was planning to build two new parking garages on campus, and Barnes was strongly opposed to that. So, Barnes expressed his frustration on social media, posting an image collage to Facebook that included a picture of Valdosta’s then-president Ronald Zaccari. Zaccari was quick to overreact to this opposition, calling the collage a “threatening document” because it dubbed one of the garages the “Zaccari Memorial Parking Garage,” which Zaccari claimed was a threat to murder him. The president expelled the student without holding a hearing, declaring that Barnes was an imminent threat to both Valdosta State University and Zaccari’s own personal safety

Since then, Barnes graduated from a different college, got a law degree, got married and had a kid. But he has still held to his conviction that his expulsion from Valdosta was a violation of his free speech rights, and he was determined to be vindicated in the courts. His initial lawsuit against the school turned into a drawn out seven-year legal battle. In 2013, Barnes was awarded $50,000 after a federal court found his due process rights had been violated by the school. Nevertheless, Barnes’s fight continued, as he pursued a separate claim that his First Amendment right to free speech had been improperly suppressed. At long last, the school threw in the towel, agreeing to pay $900,000 to Barnes as part of a settlement.

This case is an important one for student rights because it affirmed students’ right to free speech. College campuses should be places where ideas can be exchanged and free speech can be exercised. Students should not be intimidated into silence because an administrator might not agree with their views.

Listen to the radio commentary here:

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