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Court: Arkansas State Violated Student’s Free Speech; Officials Given Immunity

'Our client’s First Amendment freedoms had never been vindicated until now...'

The 8th Circuit Court of Appeals in a decision on Monday ruled that administrators at Arkansas State University violated a student’s right to free speech but that qualified immunity prevents them from being held accountable.

The case, Turning Point USA at Arkansas State University v. Rhodes, began in 2017 when two school administrators, Sarah Ponder and Elizabeth Rouse, told student Ashlyn Hoggard that she had to tear down a table promoting Turning Point USA outside the student union, Alliance Defending Freedom reported.

The table displayed slogans such as, “Free Market, Free People,” and “Big Government Sucks.”

Ponder and Rouse told Hoggard and Emily Parry, a non-student representative of Turning Point USA, to move their table to a “Free Expression Area.”

Hoggard sued with the help of conservative organizations.

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Judge L. Steven Grasz said the administrators cannot be penalized because they may not have known that their actions were unconstitutional at the time.

The lawsuit did not name Ponder and Rouse in the lawsuit, but instead went after the higher-ups who enacted the policy.

After the lawsuit, the Arkansas legislature passed the FORUM Act, which prevents university speech codes.

The university has since updated its policy.

“We’re pleased that our lawsuit prompted the state to enact good legislation protecting free speech on campus and that the new law forced the university to change its unconstitutional policies, but our client’s First Amendment freedoms had never been vindicated until now,”  ADF Legal Counsel Chris Schandevel said.

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Arkansas State University officials also declared victory in the case, since they will not face any material repercussions.

“We are pleased overall with the decision of the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals. We have no further comment at this time,” Jeff Hankins, a spokesman for the ASU System, said, according to Arkansas Online.

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