First Amendment Lawsuit Challenges Ball State’s Regulation of Off-Campus Speech
October 16, 2012
A lawsuit filed last Thursday in the United States District Court for the Southern District of Indiana is challenging Ball State University's punishment of two students for their actions involving an apartment-mate, Brent Allred, who apparently failed to pay his share of the rent.
The two student plaintiffs allegedly pulled two pranks on Allred. First, they placed an old sandwich in his room and locked the door. Second, they pulled a Chris Hansen on him, posing online as a high school student, inviting him to a movie theater in character, and posting a videotape of the ensuing confrontation on YouTube with the title "Brent Allred is a pedophile."
The key to the students' lawsuit is the fact that neither of these pranks involved Ball State University. The apartment and computers were off campus, and no one alleges any activity occurred on campus. Since all activity occurred outside of Ball State University's property, the lawsuit challenges the university's decision to suspend these students for an entire year on three counts: "harassment" (pertaining to the rotten sandwich), violation of privacy (for the video), and stalking (for the online persona).
The suit rests on one important argument: that Ball State University is prohibited by the First Amendment from punishing students for speech that occurred entirely off campus. FIRE has written about this issue before, and we will keep you apprised of developments in this case.