Iowa State University Loses Marijuana T-Shirt Case Appeal


One of my favorite professors in college when I was an undergrad was a professor that largely focused on the First Amendment. Dr. M was always very outspoken and instilled a level of respect for the First Amendment in me that will last the rest of my life. The First Amendment does not provide unlimited protection when a person is speaking or expressing themselves, but it extends a level of freedom that is greater in America than anywhere else on the planet.

One of my favorite First Amendment cases involves some hardworking marijuana activists at Iowa State University. It all started in 2012 when two students, Erin Furleigh and Paul Gerlich, both former presidents of the NORML chapter at ISU, released a pre-approved T-shirt design that included a marijuana leaf and the words “Freedom is NormL at ISU.” After the t-shirt made the cover of the Des Moines Register, Iowa State University took action to censor the NORML chapter. Specifically, the university denied several T-shirt designs, removed student group’s faculty sponsor, and instituted new rules that were vague and infringed on the group’s First Amendment rights.

A lawsuit was eventually filed in 2014, which the students won. That decision was appealed, and I’m happy to say, the decision on the appeal was handed down today, and the court ruled in favor of the students, again. Per the Des Moines Register:

Iowa State University has lost an appeal in a federal free speech lawsuit that affirms student rights regardless of political viewpoint.

The 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said Monday that ISU administrators including President Steven Leath violated First Amendment rights of two students who were top officers of the ISU chapter of the National Organization for Reform of Marijuana Laws.

“I’m most excited about the ruling being unanimous,” Gerlich said in a phone interview Monday. “That shows how we were clearly in the right from the start.”

A huge hat tip to these freedom fighters. This battle has been going on for so many years that I can’t imagine what it has been like for the students that brought the lawsuit forward. Hopefully this gives them some closure, and inspires them to keep fighting for freedom. Hopefully it inspires others too to stand up for what’s right. Today is a great day for freedom of expression!

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