MOBILE, Ala. – Officials at the University of South Alabama received a lesson in the First Amendment last month after they tried and failed miserably to force a student to remove a Trump-Pence sign from his dorm window.
Student Donald Trump supporter David Meredith posted a Trump-Pence 2016 sign in the window of his dorm room on March 30. He soon received an email from Community Director Dylan Lloyd, who insisted that “it is against university policy for political signs to be posted in windows, including residence halls” and gave Meredith 24 hours to remove the Trump-Pence sign, Campus Reform reports.
“I have included your RA, Tiffany, on this email so that she can check to ensure it is gone within 24 hours,” Lloyd wrote.
Initially, Meredith sent back a two-word response: “1st Amendment.”
Lloyd alleged that while Meredith does “have the 1st Amendment right,” he wrote that the student lives “in a federal building that cannot support political candidates” and continued to insist he remove the sign.
Meredith questioned the claim that “the name of the president and vice president cannot be posted on federal buildings,” but Lloyd alleged “the sign in your window is a political sign that shows support for a political candidate” and threatened the Trump supporter with “a judicial case” if he keeps the sign in place.
“The policy you’ve quoted pertains to political candidates, which President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence are not,” Meredith shot back. “Nothing on it says anything about campaigning and his campaign is over, which makes it memorabilia not campaign material.”
But Lloyd wouldn’t drop it, alleging Meredith’s sign could be construed as the university’s official position on Trump and put its tax-exempt status in jeopardy.
When the student continued to refuse to comply, Lloyd scheduled Meredith for a “Housing Judicial Conference” with Assistant Director of Housing Amanda Freyaldenhoven for April 12.
But the day before the scheduled hearing, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education’s Adam Steinbaugh emailed Dean of Students Michael Mitchell a 5-page letter that provided an in-depth education on First Amendment case law and demanded that university officials drop the alleged violations against Meredith, TheBlaze reports.
“Under [the university’s] application of the 501(c)(3) policy, a student may display a political sign only where nobody can see it,” Steinbaugh wrote. “No person, however unreasonable, could be misled into believing that the University of South Alabama had chosen to make its endorsement, in an election for the highest office in the land, through a solitary sign placed in one of dozens of windows in one of thirty-two dormitory buildings.
“That the university furnishes living areas to students, at the students’ expense, does not render students’ speech that of the university,” he wrote. “A contrary interpretation, untenable at a university of any caliber, would require administrators to police and censor nearly every political expression on campus.”
Two days after receiving the letter, South Alabama Communications Director Bob Lowry confirmed to Al.com that Lloyd was at fault, and Meredith’s sign can stay.
“The University of South Alabama and its leadership are committed to the principles of free speech, and to the free and open exchange of ideas. The incident in question resulted from a misunderstanding on the part of one student member of the housing staff, who misinterpreted the University’s campaign signage policy,” SAU officials wrote in a prepared statement.
“This was a mistake by one individual, and does not reflect the actual university policies and processes,” it continued. “The staff have been instructed as to the proper interpretation and application of university policy, and the student involved in this issue has been advised of the mistake and that the signage they displayed is permissible and can be reposted.”