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Shouldn’t Schools Be Encouraging Students to Hand out the Constitution, Instead of Punishing Those Who Do?

By Charles Snow posted on:
October 17, 2017

Free speech needs some help on college and university campuses nationwide. While ADF has successfully defended students from unconstitutional speech policies, schools continue to enact policies that curb the First Amendment freedoms of students.

Take this case out of Michigan for example. Last year, Brandon Withers and Michelle Gregoire, along with three other Young Americans for Liberty (YAL) supporters, attempted to recruit new members to the Kellogg Community College (KCC) chapter of their student group. They simply asked students if they “like freedom and liberty” and handed out pocket-sized copies of the U.S. Constitution.

By doing this, KCC officials insisted that the group was violating two school policies. One policy requires students receive permission before engaging in any expressive activity anywhere on campus, while the other restricts this activity to one location on campus.

When campus security confronted the group, several participants (correctly) claimed they had a constitutional right to speak in that location. The officers then arrested three YAL supporters, including Gregoire.

Alliance Defending Freedom and Allied Attorney Jeshua Lauka intervened and the charges were dropped, but the lawsuit seeking to invalidate the school’s unconstitutional speech policies continues.

Unfortunately, this was not the first time that handing out the Constitution on campus has been considered in violation of school policies. Brittany Mirelez, a student at Paradise Valley Community College (PVCC) in Arizona was told by officials that she violated campus policy when set up a table in the school’s “free speech zone” to hand out copies of the Constitution.

In another incident, Modesto Junior College (MJC) student Robert Van Tuinen was prohibited from distributing copies of the Constitution to fellow students on Constitution Day. And earlier this year, ADF partnered with our friends at the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) to send a letter to Bunker Hill Community College because it similarly ordered students to stop handing out copies of the Constitution on campus.

Thankfully, PVCC and MJC both eliminated their unconstitutional speech policies. The issues at Bunker Hill and KCC are still ongoing.

But the real question is: What would motivate officials to install such policies in the first place?

Hilariously, one KCC official called the question – “Do you like freedom and liberty?” – “provocative,” and insisted that it was an “obstruction to [the other students] education.” He even asserted that he was simply “trying to protect” those students from “rural farm areas” who “might not feel like they have the choice to ignore the question.”

Essentially, this official believes that simple questions and the Constitution derail students’ education.

Riddle me that.

This official appears to have been motivated by a psyche which has become commonplace on college campuses. Jonathan Haidt and Greg Lukianoff describe this state of mind:

[I]t presumes an extraordinary fragility of the collegiate psyche, and therefore elevates the goal of protecting students from psychological harm. The ultimate aim, it seems, is to turn campuses into “safe spaces” where young adults are shielded from words and ideas that make some uncomfortable…. this movement seeks to punish anyone who interferes with that aim, even accidentally.

This time, however, instead of students clamoring for a professor to issue a trigger warning or seeking a safe space from micro-aggressions, it was a college official imposing these needs on the students. The very document that protects the freedom of speech was the offending party.

The Supreme Court has held that “state colleges and universities are not enclaves immune from the sweep of the First Amendment” and that its “precedents . . . leave no room for the view that . . . First Amendment protections should apply with less force on college campuses than in the community at large.” And ADF will not stand idly by as school officials attempt to impose restrictive speech codes on students.

Ultimately, unconstitutional speech policies don’t protect students – they weaken our republic, and its future leaders.

 

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Charles Snow

Charles Snow

Contributing Writer

Charles is a Tennessee native and lover of books and basketball.