"The 417,000 students at California State University's 28 campuses are expected to be civil to one another, the university says in its policy manual. It sounds innocuous - but a federal magistrate says it's an unconstitutional restriction on speech when the policy is used to investigate or discipline students, such as the College Republicans whose members stomped on two flags bearing the name of Allah during an anti-terrorism rally at San Francisco State last year.
"It might be fine for the university to say, 'Hey, we hope you folks are civil to one another,' " U.S. Magistrate Wayne Brazil said last week at a hearing in his Oakland courtroom. "But it's not fine for the university to say, 'If you're not civil, whatever that means, we're going to punish you.' "
Brazil said he would issue a preliminary injunction barring the university from enforcing the civility standard in any disciplinary proceeding. He said the university can continue to enforce another rule disputed by the College Republicans - prohibiting intimidation or harassment - but can use the rule to punish students only for threatening someone's health or safety, and not merely for offensive statements or conduct.....
"Universities routinely use policies like (the California State University policy) to suppress Christian and conservative speech," said attorney David Hacker of the Alliance Defense Fund, a Christian nonprofit law firm that represents the San Francisco State College Republicans. As a result of Brazil's ruling, he said, "all students are more free to express their ideas."
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