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Friday, June 23, 2017

University Violated Free Speech Rights of Student Group Advocating for Changes to Marijuana Laws

We've seen a lot of First Amendment cases lately, including today's which deals with a university policy regarding use of its logo.

Iowa State University grants student organizations permission to use its trademarks under certain conditions. However, when the student chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) requested permission to use the school logo in its design that included a cannabis leaf, the school denied the request. Two students sued the school, claiming the decision violated their First Amendment free speech rights. Recently, the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals issued an opinion ruling in the students' favor in Gerlich v. Leath.

The court of appeals addressed various arguments by the students that the university's policies were unconstitutional. First, the court held that the university's rejection of NORML's logo designs for t-shirts discriminated against the group based on the group's viewpoint - specifically, its stance on marijuana. The court noted that it appeared that the university denied the request because of a fear that the university would be seen a endorsing a political cause. The court rejected the university's argument that this was government speech, finding that the university did not use its student group logo licensing policy to "speak to the public." 

In sum, the court determined that the university violated the student group's free speech rights when it denied permission to use the university logo on t-shirts and other messaging by NORML.

Post Authored by Julie Tappendorf


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