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Court Rules Against Iowa State University for a Second Time Over Cannabis T-Shirt




Iowa State University has lost its second appeal regarding a federal court case involving students’ right to free speech. Last Tuesday, the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals stated that ISU faculty members, including former University President Steven Leath, former Senior Vice President Warren Madden and former Senior Vice Presidents for Student Affairs Tom Hill and Leesha Zimmerman, had violated the First Amendment rights of two students who headed up the ISU chapter of the National Organization for Reform of Marijuana Laws.

The case stemmed from an original lawsuit filed back in 2012 when the cannabis advocacy group was denied the right to print t-shirts that included the ISU university logo as well as a small cannabis leaf.

The students, Paul Gerlich and Erin Furleigh, were initially approved by the administration only to have them change their minds claiming that the t-shirts violated the trademark policy enforced by the university. Conservative lawmakers and an appointee of then-Republican Gov. Terry Branstad also heavily influenced the administration’s change of heart.

Gerlich and Furleigh sued in July of 2014 and in 2016, the court ruled that the student’s right to free speech was indeed violated and it was unconstitutional to prohibit the students from printing their t-shirts. The court’s ruling was met with an appeal from the administrators, which was denied as it was concluded that the decision to prohibit the advocacy group from printing their t-shirts was politically motivated and is in direct violation of university laws stating that students who take part in advocacy groups cannot be discriminated against based on political leanings.

The administrators then asked for their case to be reheard for a second time with the exact same decision coming just last Tuesday.

Attorneys for the students said once this case is complete, they would be pursuing, “all available remedies,” including compensatory damages and attorney fees. The case has drawn quite a bit of support from unlikely adversaries like anti-abortion groups who, despite their differences can some together to fight for the basic right to free speech.

The University could once again repeal the case taking it to the 8th Circuit or possibly asking for a review from the Supreme Court.

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