DETROIT – Alliance Defending Freedom attorneys representing a student group at Macomb Community College filed a federal lawsuit Wednesday to challenge the college’s policy that bans all public expression (from anyone except labor unions) without a permit from administrators. If the college approves a student’s application to speak, the student is then assigned to a tiny speech zone that makes up approximately .001 percent of campus and limits students’ ability to communicate effectively.
“Of all places, public colleges are supposed to be budding laboratories for democracy. Administrators should encourage, not stifle, free expression,” said ADF Legal Counsel Caleb Dalton. “By banning free speech, requiring permission for any public expressive activity, and even then only permitting public expression on .001 percent of the campus, college officials aren’t respecting the constitutionally protected freedoms of students. Because of the First Amendment’s guarantee of free speech, courts have repeatedly rejected as unconstitutional policies and practices like those at Macomb Community College.”
In April, campus police approached three members of the Turning Point USA chapter at the college who were on a large open area of the MCC Clinton Township campus to raise awareness about the value fossil fuels provide to society. The police told the students, one of whom was wearing T-Rex dinosaur costume, that they could not talk to other students, offer educational literature, or collect signatures in support of the issue. They further warned the students that they were violating the college’s speech permit policies because they had not obtained pre-approval from an administrator on a different campus, and that they could be deemed to be trespassing if they did not immediately cease their activities.
The college’s speech permit policies give virtually unlimited discretion to two officials, the dean of Student and Community Services and the vice president of Student Services, to decide whether to grant students or a student club permission to engage in speech. (Labor unions are exempt from this rule.) The lawsuit, Turning Point USA at Macomb Community College v. Macomb Community College, explains that this sweeping authority allows the officials to deny permits for any reason, including unconstitutional viewpoint discrimination.
The lawsuit further explains that the college’s speech permit policies, which prohibit spontaneous speech or expressive activity on campus for any purpose, deprive students of their freedom of speech. The complaint, filed with the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan, asks the court to declare the college’s policies and practices unconstitutional under the First and 14th amendments, to award nominal damages, and to block officials from further censorship.
“Today’s college students will be tomorrow’s legislators, judges, college administrators, and voters. That’s why it’s so important that public colleges and universities model the First Amendment values they are supposed to be teaching to students,” added ADF Senior Counsel Casey Mattox, director of the Center for Academic Freedom. “It should disturb everyone when any college communicates to a generation that the Constitution doesn’t matter.”
Joel J. Kirkpatrick of Plymouth, one of nearly 3,200 attorneys allied with ADF, is serving as co-counsel for the Turning Point USA chapter.
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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