Home Culture Students of ISU’s NORML Win Federal Case over T-shirt Censorship

Students of ISU’s NORML Win Federal Case over T-shirt Censorship

The Iowa State Cyclones mascot, Cy the cardinal

Politics are a tricky thing – speak out against the popular vote and you’re likely to be looked down upon and people will try to shut you up – so many are focused on keeping the status quo that they’ve always known that they forget to progress.

The whole world is made up of politics in some form or another – and in each different variation there is always individuals with more pull than others. In the United States, we have laws set up to protect people who wish to speak their mind – the right to free speech, the right to free press, I’m sure you know how it works.

Our First Amendment rights is what our country was founded on – and it’s good to see that this far after the constitution was written that we’re still standing by it. This was displayed recently as a federal judge ruled in favor of the students of Iowa State University’s NORML chapter in a case of t-shirt censorship.

Rewind a few years to 2012 – the ISU chapter of NORML (National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws) redesigned their groups t-shirts. The new design featured the school’s mascot Cy the Cardinal in place of the “O” in NORML – and the back featured the statement “Freedom is NORML at ISU” with a marijuana leaf.

The shirt design was submitted to the school for approval and initially passed all guidelines regarding use of the schools trademark (Cy).

It wasn’t until a story on marijuana legalization ran with a photo of the NORML ISU students sporting their new group shirts. This immediately garnered the attention of a few Republican politicians who were not pleased to see the school’s mascot being used to represent a legalization reform group.

Objections to the shirts were brought almost immediately to the attention of school officials by state legislators and the chief drug policy adviser. It wasn’t long after that before the school banned the NORML ISU shirts retroactively, meaning they were banned from being worn and banned from producing more.

The reason ISU rejected the t-shirts came down to two simple things: “the message they expressed” and to “maintain favor with Iowa political figures”. The trademark policies were amended to include provisions that were meant specifically to limit the options for NORML – no longer allowing use of Cy or the pot leaf as well as stating that the shirts cannot promote use of illegal substances.

“There is a crucial difference between promoting an illegal activity and advocating for an activity or substance that is now illegal to be made legal. Plaintiffs did the latter, advocating for a change in the law, using the iconography of the national NORML organization,” he wrote.

In response to this challenge, the NORML students sued the university – claiming “specifically designed to restrict NORML ISU’s ability to engage in political advocacy.”

Turns out they were right – a federal Judge ruled in favor of the NORML ISU students.

“Defendants took action specifically directed at NORML ISU based on their views and the political reaction to those views so that Defendants could maintain favor with Iowa political figures,” wrote the court. “Once Defendants began receiving pressure from Iowa political figures, though, they immediately took measures to ensure there would be no political controversy over NORML ISU’s use of ISU marks. These actions were naturally predicated on the political content of the group’s views.”

The fact that these students stood up for what they knew was right is great – the fact that the judge ruled in their favor and set things right is even better. These days injustices are found everywhere – it’s good to see that’s not always the case.