Temple University: Speech Code Litigation
Sergeant Christian DeJohn, a graduate student at Temple University and decorated member of the Pennsylvania Army National Guard, sued Temple University in federal court, claiming both that its speech code violated the First Amendment rights of Temple students and that Temple had engaged in actions that violated his rights. FIRE filed an amicus curiae (friend-of-the-court) brief in DeJohn's case, which was joined by numerous organizations including the ACLU of Pennsylvania, the Christian Legal Society, and the Student Press Law Center. Upholding a federal district court's earlier decision, the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit held in August 2008 that Temple's sexual harassment policy was unconstitutionally overbroad for prohibiting, among other things, "generalized sexist remarks and behavior." In striking down this policy on its face, the Third Circuit held that "[d]iscussion by adult students in a college classroom should not be restricted," and that Temple's code untenably "provide[d] no shelter for core protected speech." Temple has since retaliated against DeJohn, however, by refusing to grant an impartial review of his completed Master's thesis, essentially preventing DeJohn from ever receiving his degree.
- "Letter to Christian DeJohn from Richard M. Englert, Interim Dean, October 5, 2009," October 5, 2009
- "On This Independence Day, Sgt. DeJohn Still Waiting for Fair Treatment from Temple," July 2, 2009: This Saturday, Americans will celebrate the 233rd anniversary of our nation's declaration of independence. One day after the Fourth's fireworks, Sergeant Christian DeJohn of Wyncote, Pennsylvania, will be deploying to Fort Irwin, California, right smack in the middle of the Mojave Desert. DeJohn is used to enduring hardships for the constitutional freedoms of himself and others. As FIRE supporters no doubt recall, DeJohn brought a successful suit against Temple University, where he was and is still a graduate student, which resulted in the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit striking down Temple's former sexual harassment policy on First Amendment grounds last fall. Unfortunately, DeJohn's "reward" for his victory has been bitter indeed. Despite obtaining each of the 26 credits necessary for his master's degree and maintaining a GPA of 3.2, Temple's History Department has refused to grant DeJohn an honest review of his master's thesis. The provost's office is currently reviewing his situation.
- "After Free Speech Victory in Federal Court, FIRE Sends Warning to Public Universities Violating the First Amendment," September 30, 2008: Today, FIRE sent letters to administrators at twenty public colleges and universities in New Jersey, Delaware, and Pennsylvania warning them to abandon their speech codes in light of the recent Third Circuit decision overturning Temple University's unconstitutional code. All of the colleges FIRE contacted are rated as "red light" schools in FIRE's Spotlight speech codes database, meaning that they retain policies that unconstitutionally restrict student speech.
- "FIRE Letter to Pennsylvania State University President Graham Spanier," September 30, 2008
- "‘Washington Times’ on College Speech Codes: ‘The Game is Up’," August 13, 2008: "The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit just made hundreds of colleges wonder how long their restrictive speech codes can survive," begins a staff editorial assessing the significance of last week's ruling in the case of DeJohn vs. Temple University in today's issue of The Washington Times. The editorial goes on to assert that "[c]olleges and universities generally know the game is up." While we at FIRE have been working to dismantle oppressive and unconstitutional speech codes for nearly ten years and know that the policies won't go quickly or quietly, the DeJohn ruling is a major victory for free speech, and the Times rightly captures its significance when stating that universities "will have little plausible defense if they insist on speech codes as nebulous and facially unconstitutional as Temple's." FIRE-which submitted an amicus brief in support of the case in 2007 and whose research is mentioned in the editorial-is pleased to have such continued attention drawn to this important decision. Furthermore, the editorial cites the comprehensive efforts of FIRE' Spotlight in exposing the widespread speech code abuses at colleges and universities across the United States. FIRE thanks the Times for bringing attention to the DeJohn ruling and to FIRE's speech code efforts.
- "Victory for Free Speech as Third Circuit Issues Ruling against Temple University," August 4, 2008: Today, the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit issued an opinion in DeJohn v. Temple University upholding a decision by a federal district court that Temple University’s former speech code is unconstitutional. Temple’s code prohibited, among other things, “generalized sexist remarks and behavior.” In September 2007, FIRE filed a friend-of-the-court brief urging the Third Circuit to uphold the lower court’s ruling.
- "Third Circuit Court of Appeals Decision in DeJohn v. Temple University," August 4, 2008
- "FIRE Files Brief Opposing Unconstitutional Speech Code at Temple University," September 4, 2007: Today, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) filed a friend-of-the-court brief urging the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit to uphold a decision by a lower court that Temple University’s former speech code is unconstitutional. Temple’s code prohibited, among other things, “generalized sexist remarks and behavior.” Temple’s policy contradicts decades of legal precedent and—if permitted to stand—would gravely endanger the free speech rights of Temple students and exacerbate the existing free speech crisis on America’s college campuses.
- "FIRE’s Amicus Brief in DeJohn v. Temple University, September 4, 2007," September 4, 2007
- "Court Order for Temple University, March 21, 2007," March 21, 2007
- "Complaint Filed in U.S. District Court, Eastern District of Pennsylvania Against Temple University," February 22, 2006
- "Temple Student Government Backs Down from Discriminatory Funding Policy," by Adam Kissel, September 21, 2010: Temple University's student government has backed down from a viewpoint-discriminatory funding policy for student events. The student government had told student organizations that speakers who are "offensive"—or not "inclusive" and "friendly"—would not be funded. A student government leader also stated that the new rule would "not be found in any documents, but will be enforced by the [allocations] committee." Less than 24 hours after the student group Temple University Purpose challenged the policy with FIRE's help, the policy was rescinded.
- "Temple's First Amendment Problems Are Nothing New--And One Student Is Still Paying the Price," by William Creeley, January 27, 2010
- "Temple Student Newspaper Whitewashes Temple's Terrible Track Record on Student Speech," by Azhar Majeed, September 8, 2009
- "This Month in FIRE History: Victory for Free Speech as Third Circuit Strikes Down Temple's Speech Code," by Claire Jenkins, August 31, 2009
- "'Harvard Law Review' Gets Lazy: Prestigious Journal Publishes Article Ignoring Case Law, Defending Speech Codes ," by Kelly Sarabyn, August 3, 2009: In its April issue, the Harvard Law Review (HLR) analyzes one of FIRE's favorite legal victories, DeJohn v. Temple University—and contends the case was decided incorrectly. In fact, the student-edited law review takes the shocking position that speech codes on campus are constitutional. Even more surprising than HLR's conclusion, though, is the prestigious journal's shoddy analysis, which ignores case law and argues in favor of applying workplace harassment principles to college students, contradicting Supreme Court precedent. FIRE is saddened that HLR is willing to publish deceptive apologetics for campus censorship.
- "A Temple Alum Reacts to DeJohn's Dilemma," by William Creeley, July 6, 2009
- "As Independence Day Nears, Sgt. Christian DeJohn is Still Waiting," by William Creeley, July 1, 2009
- "As Lawsuit Comes to Close, Sgt. Christian DeJohn is Left Stranded," by William Creeley, March 12, 2009
- "In Wake of ‘DeJohn’ Ruling, FIRE Issues Warning to ‘Red-Light’ Public Schools in DE, PA, NJ," by William Creeley, September 30, 2008
- "After ‘DeJohn,’ Time to Revisit Sexual Harassment Policies Nationwide," by Adam Kissel, September 23, 2008
- "This Month in FIRE History: Office for Civil Rights Sends Letter of Clarification," by Claire Jenkins, August 21, 2008
- "On ‘Inside Higher Ed’, FIRE Lawyers Explain Why ‘DeJohn’ Was Correctly Decided," by Adam Kissel, August 18, 2008: In an article published on InsideHigherEd.com today, Will Creeley, Samantha Harris, and Greg Lukianoff of FIRE explain why the Third Circuit reached the correct decision earlier this month in DeJohn v. Temple University. Arguing that critics of the decision fail to understand important aspects of the case, Creeley, Harris, and Lukianoff write that "the Third Circuit's clear pronouncement that the First Amendment rights of adult college students must not be abridged should be welcomed by public universities, not feared."
- "The Third Circuit’s Rejection of Temple’s EEOC Argument in ‘DeJohn’," by Azhar Majeed, August 15, 2008
- "DeJohn v. Temple: 'Activist Judging'?," by Samantha Harris, August 12, 2008
- "Media Round-Up: DeJohn Continues to Make Waves, Receive Coverage," August 8, 2008
- "Will Creeley Discusses DeJohn Ruling on JURIST," by Peter Bonilla, August 6, 2008
- "DeJohn Decision Garners Widespread Attention," by Peter Bonilla, August 5, 2008
- "DeJohn and the Fate of Speech Codes on Campus," by Kelly Sarabyn, August 5, 2008
- "Third Circuit Lays to Rest a Dangerous Argument and Upholds Rights of College Students," by Samantha Harris, August 5, 2008
- "DeJohn v. Temple: The Facts of the Case," by Adam Kissel, August 5, 2008
- "Victory for Free Speech in DeJohn v. Temple," by Kelly Sarabyn, August 4, 2008
- "Update on DeJohn vs. Temple University," by Emily Guidry, April 11, 2008
- "Thursday Morning: Third Circuit to Hear Oral Arguments in DeJohn v. Temple University," by William Creeley, April 9, 2008
- "Speech Restrictions and the Law in 2007," by Robert Shibley, December 24, 2007
- "Sergeant Christian DeJohn and the Cost of Standing Up for Free Speech," by William Creeley, September 17, 2007
- "What’s at Stake in DeJohn v. Temple: The Distinction between High School and College," by William Creeley, September 7, 2007
- "FIRE Files Amicus Brief in DeJohn v. Temple University," by Samantha Harris, September 4, 2007
- "FIRE to File Amicus Brief in DeJohn v. Temple," by William Creeley, August 28, 2007
- "Federal Judge Strikes Down Speech Code at Temple University," by Luke Sheahan, March 23, 2007
- "Temple Speech Code Lawsuit to Go Forward," by Sean Clark, September 14, 2006
- "Free Speech Lawsuits Filed Against Penn State and Temple," by Robert Shibley, February 23, 2006
- "The Court Got It Right,"
by William Creeley, Samantha Harris and Greg Lukianoff, Inside Higher Ed, August 18, 2008
- "EDITORIAL: Free speech on campus,"
The Washington Times, August 13, 2008
- "Appellate court rules Temple University's former speech code unconstitutional,"
by Liz White, Student Press Law Center, August 7, 2008
- "Third Circuit delivers a victory for free speech on campus with DeJohn ruling,"
by William Creeley, Jurist, August 5, 2008
- "Court strikes down ‘overbroad’ harassment policy,"
by Doug Lederman, Inside Higher Ed, August 5, 2008
- "Temple's civil rights violations are a disgrace,"
by Chris Freind, The Bulletin, April 11, 2008
- "Temple denies degree to decorated vet,"
by Jenny DeHuff, The Bulletin, April 10, 2008