Happy (belated) Constitution Day!
Yesterday marked the 230th anniversary of the ratification of the U.S. Constitution. What better way to celebrate than passing out copies of our country’s founding document, right?
Apparently, the Constitution is not welcome at several colleges around the country. And at Kellogg Community College (KCC) in Michigan, passing it out could get you arrested.
That’s what happened a year ago when a group of students and others affiliated with Young Americans for Liberty (YAL) stood in an outdoor area of campus to ask students that walked by if they “like freedom and liberty” and hand out pocket sized copies of the Constitution.
Eventually, school officials approached and told the group that they needed a permit to be engaging in these activities. The group explained that they had a First Amendment right to be there. Later that day, campus security confronted the group, put three of them in handcuffs for “trespassing,” and escorted them to the county jail where they spent over seven hours.
So, three people were arrested for exercising their constitutional right to hand out copies of the Constitution. Does anyone else see the irony here?
The problem is that KCC’s speech policy, what they call a “Solicitation Policy,” regulates a wide variety of student expression, such as leafleting, assemblies, speeches, and circulating petitions.
A few problems with this.
- All of those activities are protected by the First Amendment.
- Students don’t need a permission slip to exercise their First Amendment rights.
- The KCC Student Life Office has unchecked power to approve or deny requests in whatever timeframe they please. Plus, they can limit speech on campus to any location they please.
That’s . . . unconstitutional. That’s why Alliance Defending Freedom has filed a lawsuit against KCC.
Unfortunately, this is not the only instance of university officials keeping students from handing out copies of the Constitution. Students at Bunker Hill Community College in Massachusetts were told to stop handing out copies of the Constitution, as was a student at Paradise Valley Community College in Arizona. Paradise Valley eventually came to its senses and agreed to revise its school policies that violated the constitution. ADF has partnered with our friends at FIRE to jointly assist the Bunker Hill students in defending their First Amendment rights.
Perhaps this Constitution Day, college officials across the country should read the Constitution and actually apply the freedoms they find there to their students.
After all, today’s students will become tomorrow’s legislators, judges, government officials, and voters. It’s important that they understand how the Constitution works and that they learn to respect other people’s point of view, even when they disagree. If their college campuses teach them that their constitutional rights can be restricted at the whim of a government official, that’s the understanding students will carry with them.
Here’s the real lesson they should be learning: The Constitution is the only permission slip they need to speak freely.
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