Did you know that handing out pocket-sized copies of the Constitution is a dangerous pastime on college campuses? It shouldn’t be, but apparently it can get you arrested at Kellogg Community College (KCC) in Michigan.
One day, supporters of the group Young Americans for Liberty (YAL) were passing out copies of the Constitution on KCC’s campus and asking students that walked by if they like freedom and liberty. They stood in an outdoor area of campus and were not blocking any walkways or access to any buildings. Yet, they were arrested and put in jail for at least seven hours for “trespassing.”
This wasn’t the first time that members of YAL ran into trouble on university campuses. But it’s not because they did anything wrong.
Increasingly on college campuses, students are told that they can only speak within certain parameters, whether that be in a small, out-of-the-way location, with a permit, or during certain times of the day.
But the only permission slip students really need to exercise their right to speak freely is the First Amendment.
And because these courageous YAL students stood up for their rights, free speech was upheld at these three college campuses.
UMass-Amherst’s speech policy restricted all “speeches and rallies” to less than one percent of campus and only between noon and 1 p.m. each day. And that didn’t sit right with the YAL chapter on campus. The group wanted to host and present speeches and rallies in other publicly accessible open areas of campus – which is their right, and the right of all students on campus.
After years of advocacy to the administration to change this policy resulting in no action they reached out to ADF, which filed a lawsuit on behalf of the YAL chapter.
In response to the students’ lawsuit, the UMass Board of Trustees voted to eliminate the speech zone policy in its entirety and open all outdoor areas for expressive activity—a win for all students, not just the courageous YAL leaders.
A group of students at UC Berkeley wanted to start a YAL chapter on campus. When they submitted a request to do so, however, they were denied. The reason? University officials decided they were “too similar” to another student group on campus, Cal Libertarians, and ordered that YAL work with that group rather than starting their own. This despite the fact that university officials had recognized many other student organizations with overlapping missions. But students have the right to associate together without the government favoring some groups over others.
That’s why ADF \represented YAL in a lawsuit against UC Berkeley.
Thankfully, in response to the lawsuit, UC Berkeley agreed to change its policies to make sure it doesn’t discriminate against student groups based on their statements of purpose or uniqueness, mission statements, or other viewpoints.
As I mentioned earlier, some YAL supporters were talking to students and handing out pocket-sized copies of the Constitution at KCC when they were approached by a school official. The official demanded that they stop what they were doing. Explaining that they had a First Amendment right to be there, the YAL members continued distributing the Constitutions.
The school didn’t see it that way. Instead, these YAL representatives were arrested and placed in jail for at least seven hours—all for simply exercising their right to speak freely on campus.
The ADF Center for Academic Freedom filed a lawsuit on behalf of this YAL chapter and its members. Eventually, the school agreed to change its policies to respect the rights of students to speak peacefully on campus.
University officials have a duty to uphold the Constitution and teach students that our freedoms are worth defending, even when they disagree with the speaker. Unfortunately, these YAL students witnessed public universities teaching a different message: that you can silence and discriminate against the viewpoints you don’t agree with.
Thankfully, these YAL students were courageous enough to stand up to this injustice. And because of that, free speech is protected on these three campuses for all their students.
The ADF Center for Academic Freedom will continue working to defend YAL and secure every student’s right to freedom of speech on college campuses.
To learn more about what ADF is doing to defend the First Amendment on college campuses across the country, visit the link below.