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Free Speech Is Not Extinct on the Campus of Macomb Community College

By Sarah Kramer posted on:
November 13, 2017

It all began with three students, a T-Rex costume, and a petition on fossil fuels. 

And now, in response to an Alliance Defending Freedom lawsuit, officials at Macomb Community College in Detroit have agreed to immediately suspend unconstitutional speech policies, and the Board of Trustees will vote on adopting permanent revisions to the polices by the end of the semester. The 48,000 students on campus are now free to engage in speech activities protected by the First Amendment on campus without fear of punishment.

Here’s how that change came about: Earlier this year, a group of students affiliated with Turning Point USA decided to go out on campus and raise awareness about the value of fossil fuels to society. They were handing out educational literature on the topic and collecting signatures in support of the issue. One of those students was dressed in a T-Rex costume as the other students talked to their peers walking by on the sidewalk.

Campus police soon approached them, however, and told them to stop. Campus police informed them that they were acting in violation of school policy by collecting signatures and handing out literature without permission. And if they did not stop, their actions could be considered trespassing.

Campus policy required all students to get permission from college officials in order to engage in First Amendment activities. The college’s speech permit policies gave virtually unlimited discretion to two officials, the dean of Student and Community Services and the vice president of Student Services, to decide whether to grant students or a student club permission to engage in speech. On top of that, these officials’ offices, where students had to go to get permission to speak, are located on a completely different campus.

Then, if they managed to get permission, the college’s practice was to only assign students a small speech zone to exercise their First Amendment rights: an area that made up approximately 0.001 percent of campus.

Thankfully, because students were willing to stand up for free speech on their campus and file a lawsuit through the ADF Center for Academic Freedom, MCC officials are acting quickly to correct this violation of their students’ constitutional rights.

“Students at a public college shouldn’t have to request permission to exercise their First Amendment freedoms,” said ADF Legal Counsel Caleb Dalton. “We commend the college for acting quickly to suspend these unconstitutional speech restrictions and vote on policies that ensure every student will be able to speak freely and peacefully, regardless of their viewpoint, without fear of being punished.”

Now students are free to speak without fearing punishment from their college officials. And who knows – they might hear a viewpoint they hadn’t considered before.

They might even run into a T-Rex.

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Sarah Kramer

Sarah Kramer

Digital Content Specialist

Sarah worked as an investigative reporter before joining the Alliance Defending Freedom team.