Phoenix—The U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida has ruled that the case to protect former University of Central Florida (UCF) football player Donald De La Haye’s free speech rights can proceed. With the Court’s rejection of UCF’s motion to dismiss the case challenging the University’s censorship of Donald’s social media posts, the case will now proceed to the merits of Donald’s free speech claims to determine whether UCF violated his rights.

UCF, a public university, punished Donald for exercising his free speech rights—a clear violation of the First Amendment. A kicker for the UCF Knights and amateur filmmaker, Donald enjoyed connecting with friends and followers on social media—but his passion for posting videos to YouTube cost him both his spot on the football team and the scholarship on which he relied to attend college. Both before and during his time at UCF, Donald built an impressive following on YouTube, with tens of thousands of viewers subscribing to his entertaining and high-energy videos. His broad following also allowed him to receive modest compensation from YouTube for his original content—and UCF would not stand for that. In the summer of 2017, UCF removed Donald from its football team and rescinded his scholarship, contending that Donald violated UCF policies and NCAA rules by posting videos, including videos for which he received ad revenue, to his YouTube channel. With no scholarship, Donald was forced to withdraw from school and put his pursuit of a college degree on hold.

In November 2017, the Goldwater Institute and the Texas Public Policy Foundation sent a letter to UCF asking the university to restore Donald’s university scholarship. After the University declined to do so, the Goldwater Institute and TPPF filed a lawsuit challenging UCF’s actions as violations of Donald’s First and Fourteenth Amendment rights.

“Donald was a model athlete who, like nearly all college students, uses social media to connect with friends and followers and offer glimpses into his life. But rather than reward a student for using his talents, passion, and creativity to create content that tens of thousands of people enjoyed—just as Donald was doing as a UCF student—UCF chose to punish him,” said Goldwater Institute Director of National Litigation Jon Riches. “We hope that today’s decision denying UCF’s attempt to dismiss this case will be a step toward protecting Donald’s rights and ensuring all college student-athletes’ free speech rights are protected.”

“Students like Donald don’t check their constitutional rights at the gates to a public university simply because they are athletically gifted. We are encouraged that today’s decision affirms that the First Amendment trumps any private rules that UCF may have, and that the University will change its policies accordingly to respect all constitutionally protected free speech,” said Texas Public Policy Foundation General Counsel and Litigation Director Robert Henneke.

Read more about De La Haye v. Hitt here.

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About the Goldwater Institute

The Goldwater Institute drives results by working daily in courts, legislatures and communities to defend and strengthen the freedom guaranteed to all Americans in the constitutions of the United States and all 50 states. With the blessing of its namesake, the Goldwater Institute opened in 1988. Its early years focused on defending liberty in Barry Goldwater’s home state of Arizona. Today, the Goldwater Institute is a national leader for constitutionally limited government respected by the left and right for its adherence to principle and real world impact. No less a liberal icon than the New York Times calls the Goldwater Institute a “watchdog for conservative ideals” that plays an “outsize role” in American political life.

About the Texas Public Policy Foundation

The Texas Public Policy Foundation is a nonprofit, nonpartisan research institute based in Austin, Texas, dedicated to promoting liberty, personal responsibility, and free enterprise through academically-sound research and outreach. Since its inception in 1989, the Foundation has emphasized the importance of limited government, free market competition, private property rights, and freedom from regulation. Since 2015, the Foundation’s litigation Center for the American Future has used litigation to defend the constitutional rights of businesses and individuals from governmental overreach and abuse.