Free Speech Victory For NJ University Alumni Group in Magazine Censorship Case

Affiliate: ACLU of New Jersey
March 13, 2001 12:00 am

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NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ – Superior Court Judge Joseph Messina ruled today that Rutgers University Magazine violated the free speech rights of the Rutgers 1000 Alumni Council by refusing to publish their advertisement.

“The judge’s ruling recognizes the importance of permitting differing viewpoints and protects the rights of even dissenting speakers,” said Grayson Barber who handled the case on behalf of the American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey.

Rutgers Alumni Council 1000 is composed of alumni who believe that the University places too much emphasis on its sports program at the expense of its academic program. In 1998, the group sought to purchase an ad in the Rutgers Alumni magazine soliciting additional members, and inviting inquiries about the group and its goals. The magazine refused to publish the ad, citing a policy of refusing “advocacy advertising.”

The ACLU argued that the University’s refusal to publish the ad, and its policy of discriminating against political advertising in general, violated both the federal and state constitutions.

Judge Messina ruled that Rutgers Magazine had created a limited public forum which should permit discussion of important issues at the university such as those raised by Rutgers 1000. Judge Messina also held that Rutgers Magazine’s policy against advocacy advertising was inconsistently applied and shifted over time. In his ruling, Judge Messina characterized the university as the quintessential marketplace of ideas.

Rutgers 1000 had sought to purchase a one-third page advertisement captioned “For Rutgers Alumni – A Time to Choose.” The ad contained a quote from Nobel Prize-winning economist Milton Friedman, an alumni member of the group: “Universities exist to transmit knowledge and understanding of ideas and values to students, not to provide entertainment for spectators or employment for athletes.” The ad also solicited readers to join the campaign and to send money to support Rutgers 1000’s activities.

The case, Rutgers 1000 Alumni Council v. Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey, was filed in the New Jersey Superior Court, Chancery Division, Middlesex County. Grayson Barber, Esq. of Princeton, New Jersey, and J.C. Salyer of the ACLU-NJ are counsel for the plaintiff on behalf of the ACLU of New Jersey.

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