Speech First, Inc. v. Wintersteen

From January 2020 to March 2020
Iowa State University (Public college or university)
Ames, Iowa, USA


Additional Information

  • Incident Nature:
  • Incident Political Orientation:
  • Incident Responses:
  • Incident Status:
  • No protest Occured
  • Was Speech Code incident


Iowa State University implemented two policies that had far-reaching and constitutionally problematic impact. First, ISU instituted a “chalking” policy that limits the ability to “chalk” (write messages in chalk on the University’s public sidewalks) to certain individuals on certain particular topics. This policy was in response to racist remarks made in chalk on campus and was instituted in November 2019. The policy defined chalking as “the marking of a sidewalk surface with chalk in order to publicize an upcoming event sponsored by a registered student organization.” The right to chalk was limited to registered student organizations and could include only ” the event title (may not exceed seven words), event location and time, and the name of the sponsoring registered student organization.” individuals are prohibited from removing, defacing, modifying, or impairing the legibility of any approved chalking. Those who violate the policy face disciplinary action, monetary sanction associated with clean-up costs, or forfeiture of registration status and ability to reserve space on campus. Iowa State also implemented an “Acceptable Use of Technology Resources policy, which governs to all users of the University’s technology resources, including University-issued email accounts as well as personal devices connected to the University’s network or internet service. A specific section of the ISU technology policy prohibits students from sending “email[s] from a university account to solicit support for a candidate or ballot measure, or otherwise us[e] email systems in a concerted effort to support a candidate or ballot measure.” Under this policy, students who distribute promotional materials from a particular political candidate using their school-issued email or over the University’s network would be subject to discipline. Students that violate the technology policy face disciplinary action, could have their email or internet access restricted, and could be subject to “a charge to offset the cost of the incident.” Speech First instituted this lawsuit in January 2020, concerned that students could not effectively advocate for candidates ahead of the Iowa Caucus. On March 12, 2020, the parties entered notice of voluntary dismissal. Under the agreement, ISU removed the provision prohibiting students from “sending emails to solicit support for a candidate or ballot measure” and instituted a new chalking policy.