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Jul 06, 2013 09:35 AM EDT

University of Central Arkansas 'Annoying' Speech Policy Axed

Prompted by an academic watchdog group, the University of Central Arkansas (UCA) rewrote part of speech policy, reported.

The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) called "unconstitutional" the section in UCA's student handbook that stated disciplinary action could be taken on a student for "annoying" another person.

"Students have no way to know what might be punishable since the policy conditions the permissibility of speech entirely upon the subjective reaction of the listener," FIRE wrote in a blog post announcing the issue. "What might seem like a lively debate to one person could be extremely annoying to another person."

The group opposed the rule on grounds that it violated their students' rights under the First Amendment. FIRE also pointed out that UCA is a public school and it is "bound to uphold its students' First Amendment rights."

According to the policy, students' remarks were not limited to the campus. According to FIRE, the policy gave an example of "disparaging remarks" to include Facebook, MySpace or any other Internet site.

The organization pointed to the Supreme Court's decision in Terminiello v. Chicago, 337 U.S. 1, 4 (1949) which states "freedom of speech, though not absolute, is nevertheless protected against censorship or punishment, unless shown likely to produce a clear and present danger of a serious substantive evil that rises far above public inconvenience, annoyance, or unrest"

Katie Henry, interim general counsel for UCA confirmed to Campus Reform that the school had changed the policy.

"The administration has reviewed the language in the University's Student Handbook," she said in an email. "The University will revise the 2013-2014 Handbook to delete the words 'annoying' and 'disparaging' from the section 'Offenses Subject to Disciplinary Action.'"

FIRE spokeswoman Samantha Harris told Campus Reform her organization was happy to see the school take action so quickly.

"Our preferred way of resolving these things is working with administrations," said Harris. "We are always thrilled to see schools supporting free speech."

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