2009

Free Speech under fire in Radford, VA

* Note: If you search “Free Speech and Radford University” on Google, you will find the older version of this page.  Its the first thing that comes up out of many billions of Google pages.   On the other hand,  if you search for the same thing on the Radford University site, this site does not come up.  It is blocked. It’s  just one more example of censorship at RU.


For years, city zoning employees cruised the university district of Radford Virginia and ordered students to take down any Greek letters that happened to be posted on student houses. Any signs they didnt like for whatever reason, even church-related Greek letters, came down.

Then in 2006, someone finally asked what law, exactly, allowed them to behave this way. And surprise, surprise, surprise — city officials found they were enforcing a law that they only thought existed… a phantom ordinance.

So in 2007, they decided to create a law… A law that would not only let them take down the signs, but a law that would make students come to the government for approval before any signs even went up.

The only problem was that a few people remembered a little history from Virginia’s dim past … Something about Thomas Jefferson, and free speech and free press …
Timeline:

Feb. 15th, 2007 — Radford City Council holds first hearing on the proposed ordinance. Dr. William Kovarik said … the requirements for fraternity and sorority signs are “inconsistent with the First Amendment, as they are only permitted during three weekends per year and then only by approval of both Radford University’s Office of Student Affairs and the city’s Zoning Administrator.” Radford News Journal, Feb. 15, 2007

Also at the same hearing, church groups objected: “I’m a member of Chi Alpha, and we’re a campus ministry group, we’re not in the Greek (fraternity and sorority) community, but we’re represented by Greek letters because of Christian tradition,” said RU senior and social work major Misty Keene. “It (the ordinance) has posed problems in the past. We had to take down our letters when we were on Main Street.” — The Tartan student newspaper.

April 23rd — A second hearing is held. A letter is written to council warning that the ordinance has obvious Constitutional infirmities and strongly recommending that the city seek more legal advice.

May 14th — the City Council ignores the warning and passes ordinance Sec. 120-239, “Additional Requirements for Radford University Recognized Student Clubs and Organization Signs,” which says, in sections c and d, that message “design and location must be approved” by city and university bureaucrats, and that “the display of RU recognized student clubs or organizations  letters, banners, signs, etc, other than flags, are permitted only during special events…”

July 23 — Virginia state American Civil Liberties Union says it will sue the city if it does not repeal the ordinance.

July 24 — The City of Radford explains its policy (for the first time) City attorney Jim Gwynn says “The alternative, in my mind, is simply to say ‘OK, there will be no signs in residential neighborhoods.’”

Aug. 1 — The ACLU says that the City of Radford cannot compromise on freedom of speech.

Aug. 7 — City Council members say they just dont understand why a “gentleman’s agreement” to abridge First Amendment rights isnt good enough for fraternities. They claim that this actually gives the students MORE rights because it allows them a small amount of free speech, which they would not have if the ordinance didn’t exist

And then — NOTHING HAPPENS !

(Its like an episode of Dark Shadows).

Years go by and the city’s constitutional infirmity goes unchallenged – by the ACLU, by anyone.   But the students keep having to take  their signs down and put them up and have them approved by government bureaucrats.