GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. – As part of a legal settlement, Michigan’s Kellogg Community College has changed policies that were the basis for arresting three supporters of the Young Americans for Liberty chapter on campus as they were handing out copies of the U.S. Constitution to students on a sidewalk. In addition, the college will provisionally recognize the Young Americans for Liberty chapter and pay $55,000 in damages and attorneys’ fees.
For almost a year after the arrests and for eight months after the student group filed suit, the college refused to change any of its policies. Then, two weeks after a federal judge made clear at the August hearing that he believed the policies to be unconstitutional, KCC made some initial, but insufficient, changes. The college made further changes during settlement negotiations to fully protect student expression as the Constitution requires.
“It’s astounding that college officials would arrest people for distributing the Constitution, the very document that protects their right to free expression,” said ADF Legal Counsel Travis Barham. “All public colleges have a duty to protect and promote the First Amendment’s guarantee of free speech. It’s a shame that it took this much time and a federal court’s rebuke for Kellogg Community College to come to its senses, realize that these arrests were wrong, and finally agree to respect students’ constitutionally protected freedoms.”
One of the policies KCC eliminated stated that students must obtain permission from the school before they engage in any expressive activity anywhere on campus, including distribution of any written material. It also prohibited any speech that did not “support the mission of Kellogg Community College (KCC) or the mission of a recognized college entity or activity.” The other policy the college eliminated prevented students from engaging in expressive activities in any outdoor location.
“Campus administrators shouldn’t be able to dictate what can and can’t be said on a taxpayer-funded, public college campus,” said YAL President Cliff Maloney, Jr. “I applaud the YAL activists for standing up for their constitutional rights and for this win, which allows all philosophical ideologies the freedom to be heard on campus.”
“Once again, Alliance Defending Freedom successfully represented student victims of outrageous leftist abuses on campus,” said Morton Blackwell, president of Leadership Institute, which was also involved in the case. “This battle shouldn’t have had to be fought, but perhaps now fewer school administrators will try to trample free speech rights on campus.”
On Sept. 20, 2016, Brandon Withers and Michelle Gregoire, along with three other YAL supporters were on a large, open walkway in front of the Binda Performing Arts Center on KCC’s campus talking with students about the club and handing out pocket-sized copies of the U.S. Constitution. Withers, Gregoire, and the other supporters were not blocking access to buildings or pedestrian traffic and were not interfering with any KCC activities or other planned events on campus.
KCC administrators and campus security approached them and, in an exchange captured on video, said that they were violating KCC’s policies. They were arrested, jailed, and charged with criminal trespass. After ADF and allied attorney Jeshua Lauka intervened, the charges were dropped, but the unconstitutional policies restricting student speech remained in effect until after the federal court’s rebuke in August 2017.
Lauka, with the Grand Rapids law firm David & Wierenga, P.C. served as local counsel in the case, Young Americans for Liberty at Kellogg Community College v. Kellogg Community College.
- Pronunciation guide: Barham (BEAR’-um)
The ADF Center for Academic Freedom is dedicated to ensuring freedom of speech and association for students and faculty so that everyone can freely participate in the marketplace of ideas without fear of government censorship.
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