Court Revives First Amendment Suit on Facebook Post

January 14, 2015

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit revived a lengthy First Amendment lawsuit against Valdosta State University on Monday, reversing a lower court's 2010 dismissal of the case. Hayden Barnes sued Valdosta State in 2008 after he was expelled for protesting the university's plan to build two parking garages with $30 million in student fees. The university said at the time that it considered a collage of images Barnes posted to his Facebook page, as well as a misinterpreted video contest slogan calling on students to "shoot it," to be a direct threat to the safety of Ronald Zaccari, the university's president. The collage featured photographs of a parking garage, Zaccari, and a bulldozer, as well as the words "No Blood for Oil."

Barnes was told that in order to return as a student, a non-university psychiatrist would have to certify that he was not a threat to himself or anyone else, and that he would receive "on-going therapy." After he appealed, with endorsements from a psychiatrist and a professor, the Georgia Board of Regents did not reverse the expulsion. Following the announcement of the lawsuit in 2008, the board changed its mind and reinstated Barnes. In 2013, Zaccari, who had since retired, was found personally liable for the student's expulsion and was required to pay Barnes $50,000 in damages.

“Once again, a federal appeals court has stepped in to ensure that college administrators can’t get away with trampling students’ well-established rights,” said Greg Lukianoff, president of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, which has advised Barnes on the case since 2007. “How much longer, and how many more lawsuits, will it take to get our nation’s colleges and universities out of the doomed business of unconstitutional censorship?”

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