Student club asks court to halt policy that resulted in arrests for handing out Constitution
GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. – Alliance Defending Freedom attorneys representing a Young Americans for Liberty chapter and one of its student organizers at Kellogg Community College in Battle Creek filed a motion and brief in federal court Wednesday that asks for the school’s speech policies to be suspended after campus security arrested three people handing out copies of the U.S. Constitution while talking with students about the club on a sidewalk.
The school claims the club supporters violated its Solicitation Policy, which states that students and others must obtain permission from the school before they engage in any expressive activity anywhere on campus, including distribution of any written material. The lawsuit, Young Americans for Liberty at Kellogg Community College v. Kellogg Community College, filed in January, explains that the policy is unconstitutional for that reason, and also because it grants college officials too much discretion to restrict the content and viewpoint of student speech if it does not “support the mission of Kellogg Community College (KCC) or the mission of a recognized college entity or activity.”
“Because public colleges have the duty to protect and promote the First Amendment’s guarantee of free speech, we are asking the court to prevent KCC from enforcing its unconstitutional policy while our lawsuit proceeds,” said ADF Legal Counsel Travis Barham. “Like all public colleges, KCC is supposed to be ‘the marketplace of ideas,’ but instead, it arrested these club supporters for exercising their freedom of speech, and, ironically, for handing out copies of the very document—the Constitution—that protects what they were doing.”
On Sept. 20 of last year, KCC students 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 eventually approached them and said that they were violating the Solicitation Policy because they had not obtained prior permission from KCC, and that they were not allowed to conduct expressive activity in this location on campus.
In the exchange, captured on video, one of the administrators told the supporters that “engaging [students] in conversation on their way to educational places” is a violation of the Solicitation Policy because it is an “obstruction to their education” to ask them questions like, “Do you like freedom and liberty?,” adding that he was concerned that the students from “rural farm areas…might not feel like they have the choice to ignore the question.”
The officials instructed Withers, Gregoire, and the others that they must immediately stop engaging in their speech activities and leave campus. When Gregoire and two of the other club supporters politely informed KCC’s chief of public safety that they were going to continue exercising their First Amendment freedoms by talking with students and handing out copies of the Constitution, he arrested them and charged them with trespass. After ADF and allied attorney Jeshua Lauka intervened, the charges were dropped, but the policies restricting student speech remain in effect.
“Today’s college students will be tomorrow’s legislators, judges, commissioners, and voters,” said ADF Senior Counsel Casey Mattox. “It makes no sense for a tax-funded college to forbid students from advocating for our constitutionally protected freedoms on their own campus. We hope the court will act swiftly to stop this school from violating its students’ rights.”
Lauka, with the Grand Rapids law firm David & Wierenga, P.C. is serving as local counsel in the case, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Michigan.
- Pronunciation guide: Barham (BEAR’-um)
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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