Santa Rosa Junior College Unconstitutionally Bans Use of "SRJC" in E-Mail Addresses
July 1, 2009
by Adam Kissel
FIRE has written to Santa Rosa Junior College to urge it to lift its overbroad ban on the use of "SRJC" (or even "srjc") in e-mail addresses and Internet domain names. The ban, reported last month by the Press Democrat, goes too far because it bans using the name of the college even in instances where there is no doubt whatsoever that the e-mail address or domain name has no official relationship to the college and where no commercial interest is involved. The college was sending cease-and-desist letters suggesting that the alleged perpetrators were breaking the law:
The use of Santa Rosa Junior College or any abbreviation of the college name is protected by Education Code 72000(b)(4). In order to avoid any future legal action we are requesting that you remove any reference to Santa Rosa Junior College in your E-mail address and/or domain name and cease to use it now and in the future.
In fact, however, this letter goes far beyond the California Education Code—as well as the First Amendment and the California Constitution. As we wrote:
By misinterpreting the restrictions of the California Education Code, SRJC has unconstitutionally restricted the freedom of expression of members of the SRJC community. SRJC may reasonably restrict the use of its name when a reasonable person might mistake the private expression at issue as institutional expression. Further, SRJC may reasonably restrict the commercial use of its name. SRJC may not, however, categorically ban individual e-mail addresses and domain names simply because they use the name of the school or the district. Even if the California Education Code did permit such a ban, which it does not, such a ban would be unconstitutionally overbroad. Indeed, the ban as promulgated by [Vice President of Academic Affairs/Assistant Superintendent Mary Kay] Rudolph prohibits expression that is protected by the First Amendment to the United States Constitution.
This is not the first time a California college has misrepresented the California Education Code. In 2005, the University of California–Santa Barbara similarly tried to force the independently hosted website "www.thedarksideofucsb.com" to remove the letters "ucsb" from its website URL—alleging that the website owner was "guilty of a misdemeanor" for using the letters. FIRE successfully intervened to protect the owner's rights.