Oregon college sued for censoring student speech, restricting it to 1.5% of campus
Attorney sound bite: Michael Ross
SALEM, Ore. – Alliance Defending Freedom attorneys representing a pro-life student group at Chemeketa Community College filed a lawsuit in federal court Tuesday to challenge the college’s speech policies that restrict outdoor speech to two small areas, less than 1.5% of the 100-acre campus, and require students to secure permission at least two weeks in advance before speaking in those areas.
The policies have prevented the students from engaging in spontaneous expression and from promoting their events. For example, on Feb. 26, members of Students for Life hosted a debate on campus about the morality of physician-assisted suicide. While the students applied for, and received, approval from the college to host the event indoors on campus, they wished to promote the event outdoors between classes by handing out flyers and describing the services of local pregnancy resource centers. The students refrained from doing so, however, to avoid violating the college’s policies restricting speech.
“The only permission slip students need in order to speak on public college campuses is the First Amendment,” said ADF Legal Counsel Michael Ross. “Students don’t give up their constitutionally protected freedoms when they step on to campus or hold a specific viewpoint. Our clients have the right to peacefully engage and persuade their peers. They also have the freedom to support pregnant and parenting students without censorship or harassment from their school.”
ADF attorneys represent Marcos Sanchez and Emma Howell, current, full-time students who serve as president and co-president of Chemeketa Students for Life. The lawsuit explains how the college’s speech zone policies require the students to obtain permission two weeks in advance for all outdoor expressive activities. The college’s policy, therefore, limits students’ ability to mobilize their peers in a timely manner through calls to legislators or local officials in response to breaking news relevant to pro-life concerns and frustrates their ability to share their religious and moral convictions in a peaceful, non-disruptive manner.
“Today’s college students are our future legislators, judges, and voters. That’s why it’s so important that public universities model the First Amendment values they’re supposed to be teaching students,” said ADF Senior Counsel Tyson Langhofer, director of the ADF Center for Academic Freedom. “Pro-life students—like their peers—have the freedom to share messages of hope and healing without first asking college administrators for permission to speak.”
“Across the country, we are seeing incredible opposition to the pro-life speech of our student leaders and volunteers as they speak for the defenseless and educate their fellow students on abortion,” said Students for Life of America President Kristan Hawkins. “But the law and the Constitution are clear on the matter: Public schools cannot silence pro-life groups or force them to self-censor. If Chemeketa Community College wants to respect every member of its community, it will clarify that Students for Life can participate in the open exchange of ideas and ensure that the entire college community becomes a ‘free speech zone’ for pro-life students and their peers.”
Daniel Hill, one of more than 3,100 attorneys allied with ADF, is serving as local counsel for the club in the case, Chemeketa Students for Life v. Members of the Chemeketa Board of Education, filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Oregon, Eugene Division.
Students for Life of America is the nation’s largest pro-life student organization with over 1,225 student groups on high school and college campuses across the country.
- Pronunciation guide: Chemeketa (chuh-MEH’-kih-tuh), Langhofer (LANG’-hoff-ur)
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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