Again? Students arrested for handing out Constitution
The fight was in the ring in 2011, 2013, 2014 and 2015, and now it’s back – and this time it’s in a courtroom.
The Alliance Defending Freedom has filed a lawsuit against Kellogg Community College in Michigan for allegedly arresting three students for handing out copies of the U.S. Constitution.
The college alleges the students violated the First Amendment and the school’s 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 names trustees Steve Claywell, Jill Booth, Matthew Davis, Reba Harrington, Jonathan Byrd, Jule Camp Seifke and Patrick O’Donnell, and members of the management staff.
“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,” ADF said.
“All public colleges – which are supposed to be the ‘marketplace of ideas’ – have the duty to protect and promote the First Amendment’s guarantee of free speech,” said ADF Legal Counsel Travis Barham. “Ignoring this duty, KCC arrested these club supporters for exercising this freedom, and, ironically, for handing out copies of the very document – the Constitution – that protects what they were doing.”
School officials told WND they just became aware of the issue on Wednesday and their legal counsel would address it.
The complaint in federal court in Michigan, on behalf of the local Young Americans for Liberty chapter and students Michelle Gregoire and Brandon Withers, explains the school had its security officers arrest them for “handing out copies of the U.S. Constitution while talking with students about the club.”
Gregoire, Withers and three other YAL supporters were talking with students about the club and handing out pocket-sized copies of the Constitution. ADF said they were not blocking access to buildings or pedestrian traffic and were not interfering with any KCC activities or other planned events.
Campus security told the YAL members they were violating the soliciting policy.
“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,'” ADF said.
When the students told KCC officials they were “going to continue exercising their First Amendment freedoms,” they were arrested.
“Today’s college students will be tomorrow’s legislators, judges, commissioners, and voters,” said ADF Senior Counsel Casey Mattox. “That’s why it’s so important that public universities model the First Amendment values they are supposed to be teaching to students, and why it should disturb everyone that KCC and many other colleges are communicating to a generation that the Constitution doesn’t matter.”
The case is far from new, however.
In 2011, WND reported a library banned distribution of the Constitution.
A federal judge in Shasta County Superior Court in Northern California granted an injunction that cleared the way for the distribution to continue.
In 2013, the dispute took place on the campus of Modesto Junior College in California.
A lawsuit was launched by the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education against the school.
FIRE President Greg Lukianoff said at the time the school administrators, who were caught on camera intervening, “were so unfamiliar with the basic principles of free speech that they prevented him from passing out the Constitution to his fellow students on Constitution Day.”
“Even in the face of national shock and outrage, the college has failed to reform its absurd ‘free speech zone.’ Now it will have to defend that policy in federal court,” he said.
It was just one of several incidents that developed about the same time in Ocala, Florida, and Madison, Wisconsin.
In 2014, officials at Southern Oregon University threatened to call police on students handing out the Constitution.
And in 2015, at Penn State, students were confronted by a police officer and told they needed to stop handing out the Constitution.
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