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San Francisco State University

College Republicans at San Francisco State University v. Reed


On October 17, 2006, College Republicans held an anti-terrorism rally on the campus of San Francisco State University (SFSU). Through this event, they wanted to educate fellow students about the effects of domestic and international terrorism, memorialize the victims of recent terroristic attacks, and prompt further conversation on the proper way to combat terrorist groups. To prepare for the rally, several members of College Republicans painted butcher paper to resemble the flags of Hezbollah and Hamas. At the rally, College Republican members stepped on the paper “flags” to mimic the way Hezbollah and Hamas protested the United States. Unbeknownst to College Republicans, both flags contained Arabic script representing the word “Allah.” When some students informed College Republicans of this, the script was blacked out. But even this did not pacify some. Several students threatened to attack members of College Republicans if they did not stop stepping on the paper flags. Over a week after the rally, a student filed a formal complaint with SFSU claiming that College Republicans had “incited violence,” created a “hostile environment,” and engaged in “actions of incivility.” The complaint was based on an SFSU and California State University System speech code policy that required all students to “be civil” to one another. In the ensuing weeks, other students complained that the rally was “offensive” and “disrespectful.” Although College Republicans simply exercised their First Amendment rights, SFSU conducted a five-month investigation into the group’s activity. The ADF Center for Academic Freedom filed suit on behalf of College Republicans against various officials of the California State University System and SFSU for retaliating against the students and violating their rights to free speech through the investigation and speech code. It moved for a preliminary injunction against the speech code.


WIN. On November 19, 2007, the district court granted the preliminary injunction and struck down the “civility” portion of the speech code as unconstitutional because such broadly worded rules allow school administrators to discriminate on the basis of viewpoint. On March 4, 2008, College Republicans reached a settlement with SFSU, which amended the system-wide speech code to remove the “civility” language, eliminated the unconstitutional portions of two other SFSU speech codes, provided nominal damages to the College Republicans, and attorneys’ fees and costs to ADF.

Implications of Decision

The court’s preliminary injunction and the parties’ settlement eliminated a university speech code that posed a distinct risk to Christian groups and enabled the approximately 450,000 students on twenty-three California State University campuses to speak freely.

Case Documents

College Republicans at San Francisco State University, et al. v. Achtenberg, et al._Complaint.pdf

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