Last week, we celebrated the vindication of Montclair State University student Joseph Aziz’s free speech rights, after he had been suspended for violating an unconstitutional gag order imposed on him by the university for making negative social media comments about another student. This victory for the First Amendment was long overdue, and we at FIRE were certainly glad that the university’s administration reversed course. However, as Paul Mulshine writes in The Star-Ledger of Newark, New Jersey, all is not necessarily well, and the case raises many questions about the attitude toward free speech at Montclair State.
In a stirring op-ed that ran yesterday, Mulshine asks why a public university funded by taxpayer dollars would find it acceptable to place this type of restriction on a student’s expression, to begin with:
Nonetheless Joseph Aziz, a 26-year-old grad student from Weehawken, was issued an order by the university telling him to keep away from the woman and to refrain from commenting further on the matter. The latter is what we in the journalism business call an “unconstitutional prior restraint.” Robert Shibley of the Foundation on Individual Rights in Education calls it that, too.
“They simply told him you’re not allowed to talk about this on social media and that’s a power no American governmental entity has,” said Shibley. “President Nixon didn’t get away with that in the Pentagon Papers case and that involved national security.”
Mulshine also takes on Montclair State’s flawed invocation of New Jersey’s Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights Act to justify its censorship. FIRE’s Samantha Harris has already taken apart this rationale here on The Torch. Mulshine, for his part, writes:
How could an adult believe that all speech which has the potential to inflict any emotional harm can be banned? These college administrators are badly in need of an education.
Unless administrators at Montclair State and other public universities understand that broad restrictions on student expression like the one that sparked this controversy are unconstitutional, we fear that this won’t be the last time you’ll be reading about prior restraint on The Torch.
Azhar Majeed is a Robert H. Jackson legal fellow at the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education. Azhar Majeed, a native of Grosse Pointe, Michigan, received a B.A. in Political Science with a minor in History from the University of Michigan in 2004. He is also a 2007 graduate of the University of Michigan Law School. As an undergraduate, his academic interests included comparative constitutional law and political philosophy, particularly from the time period of the Enlightenment. During law school, Azhar represented the University of Michigan at the 2006 Tulane International Moot Court competition.