UM is given green light for policy on bad behavior

Assistant attorney general says school can limit offensive actions at games

College Basketball

March 28, 2004|By FROM STAFF REPORTS

The University of Maryland is moving forward with its plans to craft a policy to deter vulgar language at home athletic contests after receiving assurance it could be done while preserving freedom of speech.

State Assistant Attorney General John Anderson, who had been consulted by the school in late February, wrote in a March 17 memo that Maryland can limit offensive types of chants, signs and clothing used by those at its events.

The university may "constitutionally adopt a carefully drafted policy that prohibits offensive speech at Comcast [Center]," Anderson wrote in a four-page memo first reported by The Washington Times. "I do not conclude that the First Amendment condemns any such effort to failure."

Since offensive speech is protected under the 1971 Supreme Court case, Cohen v. California, the school can't arrest individuals who violate the policy. But Anderson said in the memo that in cases involving captive auditors, like children, it's possible to restrict such language.

Maryland's athletic director Debbie Yow, who declined to comment on the subject, has advocated restrictions on blue language in the past. With the clearance, school officials and student leaders are working together on a policy in hopes of implementation before the first home football game against Northern Illinois on Sept. 4.

But though the policy would likely cover all sports, the inspiration comes from complaints from fans during the men's basketball season.

Just before calling on Anderson, Maryland suffered a black eye locally and nationally during its Jan. 21 game against Duke at Comcast Center. Though the student section's chants were directed at the Blue Devils' J.J. Redick, they also upset other fans in attendance, and could be heard by the television audience on ESPN that night.

Since then, the school has played a recorded, pre-game message from Terps basketball coach Gary Williams that discouraged family-hostile language.

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