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ADF lawsuit results in speech policy changes at 10 Phoenix-area community colleges

Maricopa County Community College District agrees to eliminate unconstitutional free speech restrictions as part of settlement
Related Case:
Wanted: Safe Space for Free Speech on College Campuses

PHOENIX – The Maricopa County Community College District has agreed to eliminate unconstitutional free speech restrictions at all 10 of its campuses in the Phoenix metropolitan area as part of a settlement reached in a lawsuit that Alliance Defending Freedom attorneys filed on behalf of two students last year. The settlement ends the suit.

The students, Brittany Mirelez and Richard Shemberger, challenged a restrictive speech zone at Paradise Valley Community College. The college restricted students to one designated zone in which they could exercise their constitutionally protected freedom of speech and only with prior permission between 9 a.m. and 4 p.m. Monday through Friday if the zone was not already fully reserved. The settlement eliminates that speech zone and any others at the nine other campuses in the system. The district will also pay $15,000 in attorneys’ fees because the students were forced to go to court to vindicate their constitutionally protected freedoms.

“Colleges are supposed to be a place where ideas are freely shared, not gagged. The elimination of these unconstitutional restrictions on free speech will make these campuses the marketplaces of ideas they were intended to be,” said ADF Senior Counsel Tyson Langhofer. “Colleges shouldn’t short-circuit their own purpose by placing their own restrictive speech rules above the freedoms that the First Amendment guarantees to students and all Americans. We commend MCCCD for working with us to return free speech to their students while on campus.”

In October of last year, Brittany Mirelez, a student at PVCC, set up a table in the speech zone to talk with other students about joining the Young Americans for Liberty student group she was trying to start at PVCC and to hand out copies of the U.S. Constitution. YAL is a non-partisan, grass-roots political advocacy group that promotes liberty values on college campuses throughout the country.

Shortly after setting up her table, an administrator informed Mirelez that she was not allowed to be in the speech zone because she did not obtain prior permission 48 hours in advance as the college’s Guidelines for Public Expression on Campus requires. The administrator instructed her to set up her table in the cafeteria, which was not included in the speech zone, as a one-time concession only and said she must abide by the college's public expression policy going forward.

The policy prohibited students from speaking in any areas on campus outside of the speech zone, including on public sidewalks, walkways, lawns, and other outdoor areas. Instead, students were required to confine their expressive activities to the zone, and if the zone was fully reserved, they could not speak at all. The new policy no longer contains these restrictions.

The lawsuit, Mirelez v. Dale, filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Arizona, argued that the college’s policy unconstitutionally chilled protected student speech and disabled the ability of students to speak freely on campus about recent and unfolding events. In light of the settlement, the students have voluntarily dismissed their suit.

Kenneth W. Schutt, one of nearly 3,100 private attorneys allied with ADF, served as local counsel in the case.

  • Pronunciation guide: Langhofer (LANG’-hoff-uhr), Mirelez (Mihr-EL’-ehz)

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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Tyson Langhofer
Tyson Langhofer
Senior Counsel, Director of Center for Academic Freedom
Tyson Langhofer serves as senior counsel and director of the Center for Academic Freedom with Alliance Defending Freedom.