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Cloud over free speech in Sunshine State: College bans literature distribution

ADF attorneys sue Palm Beach State College over unconstitutional policies, which even require permit for off-campus events on evenings, weekends

PALM BEACH, Fla. — Attorneys with the Alliance Defense Fund filed suit Thursday on behalf of Young Americans for Freedom against Palm Beach State College officials for enforcing an all-out ban on literature distribution and requiring students to get permission before holding off-campus events on weekends and evenings. These restrictions made it extremely difficult for YAF to administer its “Get out the Vote” campaign that was scheduled for the weekend and days preceding this week’s midterm elections. ADF attorneys argue that these policies are unconstitutional.

“Public colleges and universities should function as our nation’s marketplaces of ideas, not as prisons of censorship,” said American Liberties Institute President and General Counsel Frederick H. Nelson of - Orlando, Florida, one of more than 1,800 attorneys in the ADF alliance. “When college officials shut down their campuses to free speech and put burdensome restrictions on this First Amendment-protected liberty, even off-campuses, they are assuming an authority that they simply don’t have.”

Three Florida residents, who are also members of the conservative organization Young Americans for Freedom, were prohibited from handing out information at the “free speech zones” of a number of PBSC campuses, with college officials citing their speech policies as authority by which to deny their free speech rights. College policy demands that speakers get permission to hand out materials 24 hours prior to distribution. But in practice, the situation is even worse. PBSC officials informed the YAF leader that they actually institute a total ban on literature distribution, making it difficult for YAF members to share their ideas through making free materials available to students who voluntarily accept them--and by speaking to those who are willing to converse with them. Earlier this fall, college officials stopped YAF from distributing Heritage Foundation reports on the federal “stimulus” bill. ADF attorneys argue that such a policy is a blatant violation of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

PBSC officials further deny constitutional rights by requiring advance permission for even off-campus events held on weekends or past 9 p.m. on weekdays. Permission from the student services dean for such activities must be requested two weeks prior to the event, which must end by midnight, and at least two adult college staff members must be present. Several other stringent restrictions apply as well.

“Constitutional rights don’t simply end when you step on or around a public university or college campus,” said ADF Legal Counsel Casey Mattox. “College officials may want you to think so, but their policies don’t trump the U.S. Constitution, and we will continue to challenge such university policies, which are rampant throughout our nation.”

The lawsuit Young Americans for Freedom v. Bryant was filed with the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida.

ADF is a legal alliance of Christian attorneys and like-minded organizations defending the right of people to freely live out their faith. Launched in 1994, ADF employs a unique combination of strategy, training, funding, and litigation to protect and preserve religious liberty, the sanctity of life, marriage, and the family.