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Take your ‘free speech’ beach ball and go home, Michigan university tells students

Student group files suit over policy that limits free speech to less than 0.03 percent of campus—even speech written on a ball

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. – Alliance Defending Freedom attorneys representing a student group at Grand Valley State University filed suit in federal court Wednesday to challenge the university’s policy that limits speech to two small zones that make up less than 0.03 percent of the campus.

University officials told members of the Turning Point USA chapter at the school that they couldn’t talk to other students about the First Amendment and have them write messages on a large beach ball dubbed a “free speech ball” because the members weren’t standing in one of the two zones. Campus police and administrators told the students they would be arrested for trespassing if they didn’t cease their expressive activities.

“Public universities, which are supposed to be the ultimate marketplace of ideas, shouldn’t be stifling students on more than 99.97 percent of campus,” said ADF Senior Counsel Tyson Langhofer. “The Turning Point USA students have a constitutionally protected freedom to peacefully share their viewpoints with other students, and those students have the freedom to share their viewpoints as well, whether verbally or in writing on a beach ball. The university can’t play ‘keep away’ with the First Amendment.”

On Oct. 17, club founder Tim McKeeby, member Joe Tucker, and two other individuals were in GVSU’s Cook Carillon Tower speech zone, which they had reserved, talking with other students about their freedoms protected by the First Amendment and giving the students the opportunity to write messages on a large beach ball, which they called the “Free Speech Ball.” Shortly after arriving, Tucker and two others began to walk on sidewalks around campus with the ball and peacefully interact with students. None of the Turning Point USA members were blocking access to buildings or pedestrian traffic.

While the Turning Point USA members were on a large, open walkway in front of the Student Services Building, GVSU administrators and campus security approached them and informed them that they were violating the Speech Zone Policy and were therefore not allowed to conduct expressive activity in this location on campus. The security officers explained to them that they would be arrested for trespassing if they continued to engage in their free speech activities outside of the speech zones, so they ceased their activities.

On Nov. 16, Tucker observed a large crowd of students holding signs and marching around campus outside of the two small speech zones as they protested the recent election of Donald Trump. The student protestors stood directly outside of the Student Services Building and shouted slogans. The protestors even went inside of the Student Services Building for a period of time. Tucker did not observe any GVSU administrator or campus police officer approach the students or order them to stop engaging in their activities as had occurred with the Turning Point USA students.

The lawsuit, Turning Point USA at Grand Valley State University v. The Trustees of Grand Valley State University, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Michigan, asks the court to prohibit enforcement of the GVSU Speech Zone Policy and declare it to be a violation of the students’ freedoms protected under the First and 14th amendments to the U.S. Constitution.

ADF-allied attorney James R. Wierenga of David & Wierenga, P.C., is serving as local counsel for McKeeby, Tucker, and the Turning Point USA chapter. Wierenga is one of more than 3,100 private attorneys allied with ADF.

  • Pronunciation guide: Langhofer (LANG’-hoff-ur)

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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Tyson Langhofer
Tyson Langhofer
Senior Counsel, Director of Center for Academic Freedom
Tyson Langhofer serves as senior counsel and director of the Center for Academic Freedom with Alliance Defending Freedom.