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Pro bono legal initiative begins with letter to Bluegrass State schools

FRANKFORT, Ky. – Alliance Defending Freedom attorneys announced Monday that they will offer no-fee legal assistance to Kentucky’s public colleges and universities to help ensure that campus policies protect students in compliance with the U.S. Constitution and a new state law that protects students’ free speech.

On March 16, Gov. Matt Bevin signed into law a bill that specifically guarantees the freedom of students to engage in political and religious speech. To expedite its implementation, ADF sent a letter to Kentucky colleges and universities offering to advise them on complying with the new statute.

“Public universities should encourage, not shut down, the free exchange of ideas,” said ADF Legal Counsel Caleb Dalton. “The objective of this effort is to ensure that university and college officials are informed of their obligations to uphold free speech on campus and to assist administrators in reviewing their policies for compliance with both the Constitution and this new law.”

As the ADF letter to the schools notes, one of the protections that Senate Bill 17 offers is the elimination of restrictive and unconstitutional so-called “free speech” zones that schools have used to limit students’ ability to speak publicly on campus. The law also mirrors constitutional protections by prohibiting school officials from discriminating against campus speakers or student groups on the basis of their religious or political viewpoints. Importantly, it also ensures that student groups may organize around political or religious views and select leaders who share those views.

“Today’s college students will be tomorrow’s legislators, judges, commissioners, and voters,” said ADF Senior Counsel Casey Mattox, director of the ADF Center for Academic Freedom. “That’s why it’s so important that public universities model the First Amendment values they are supposed to be teaching to students, and why it should disturb everyone when many colleges fail to defend these constitutional values. We commend Kentucky for taking these rights seriously and will be pleased to assist the commonwealth’s colleges in revising any policies necessary to comply with this law.”

SB 17 passed both chambers of the legislature with strong bipartisan support. Designed to protect religious and political expression in public schools and on campuses, SB 17 is also known as the “Charlie Brown law,” in reference to a Kentucky elementary school’s decision to remove a Bible verse from their production of “A Charlie Brown Christmas.” ADF represented the family of a student who played Snoopy in the performance, which included a monologue by Linus on the true meaning of Christmas, as recounted in the Gospel of Luke.

Kentucky is the ninth state to enact similar legislation protecting rights of association for student organizations. Arizona, Idaho, Kansas, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Tennessee, and Virginia have similar laws. Although many of SB 17’s provisions mirror constitutional free speech principles, states have stepped up to the plate with specific legislation to remind their university administrators of the core principles of free speech because many of them either ignore or misunderstand those principles on public university campuses.

A.C. Donahue of Somerset is serving as local counsel and one of nearly 3,200 attorneys allied with ADF.

Alliance Defending Freedom is an alliance-building, non-profit legal organization that advocates for the right of people to freely live out their faith.
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