On Wednesday a federal lawsuit was filed by the Alliance Defending Freedom on behalf of students at Kellogg Community College, who claim their First Amendment rights were violated when they were thrown in jail for handing out copies of the U.S. Constitution on campus.
What could possibly warrant jail time at an institution of higher education – also known as the land that encourages a free exchange of ideas?
According to the complaint, Kellogg Community College requires students to obtain a permit from college officials before they are able to engage in any sort of expression on campus. If officials don’t like the content of the expression submitted in the permit request, their “Speech Permit Policy” gives them the ability to restrict the students speech if it does not:
“support the mission of Kellogg Community College (KCC) or the mission of a recognized college entity or activity.”
In addition to having full control over the content, they also have an unwritten speech zone policy that restricts student to only be able to express themselves in one certain area. What happens if you don’t get your free speech permit and/or express yourself outside of that one location on campus? You’re in violation of the code of conduct and could be expelled.
What is this place? (Sadly, while this seems like it has to be fake news, this is just an example of what so many colleges and universities have become.)
Kellogg Community College is a small public college in Battle Creek, Michigan, and yes, in case you were wondering, they have a section on their website dedicated to The Center for Diversity and Innovation that strives to:
“…be the catalyst and collaborative partner in the community toward the creation of a more equitable and inclusive Battle Creek.”
Where was the “equitable and inclusive” atmosphere back in September when Michelle Gregoire and Brandon Withers, both students in the Young Americans for Liberty student organization, decided to hand out copies of the U.S. Constitution? Great question. Let’s recap the series of events.
In September, Gregoire, Withers and three other students were handing out pocket-sized U.S. Constitutions outside of the performing arts building on campus. They were ordered to stop, as a result of not having a permit, and not being in the campus’s “free speech zone.” Officials also claimed that the students were “impeding students’ access to education,” despite the fact that they were not blocking anything, or pursuing students who weren’t interested in what they had to say. When the students told officials they were going to continue to exercise their First Amendment rights, college officials had three of the students thrown in jail and charged with trespassing – charges that were soon dismissed (shocking).
Perhaps the most interesting part of this story is what happened when the LGBT student group on campus decided to violate the free speech zone and roam the student center just one year earlier – absolutely nothing.
While these free speech zone policies are popping up on college campuses across the country, Travis Barham, Esq., lead counsel for the case at Alliance Defending Freedom, confirmed in my phone call with him that doesn’t make it right.
“The ‘free speech zone’ policies are in direct violation of the First Amendment. The only ‘permit’ students need is the U.S. Constitution.”
Because I do my best to be a real journalist (not the Buzzfeed Ben Smith kind), I reached out to Kellogg Community College. They replied with the following written statement:
“Kellogg Community College learned yesterday that an organization, the Alliance Defending Freedom, has announced it is filing a complaint against the College in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Michigan. The complaint itself has yet to be delivered to KCC; therefore, the details of the complaint have yet to be reviewed. The College, which takes seriously any allegation that one’s freedom of expression has been violated, will address this matter through legal counsel.”
Fairly standard, canned response. Glad to hear they are now supposedly going to make an effort to “take seriously any allegation that one’s freedom of expression has been violated.” I wonder if anyone at Kellogg Community College ever thought a good place to start would have been not making students get a permit for free speech and confine them to a small space in the first place? I have a lot of questions about this place after writing this story.
In closing, I share Alliance Defending Freedom’s aspiration for the case (as stated in my interview with Travis Barham, Esq.):
“We hope to remind Kellogg Community College that the First Amendment is not only the law of the land, but also the law of campus.”
I also hope that if you, or someone you know, is a conservative college student who suspects his or her First Amendment rights are being violated, that you’ll spread the word about Alliance Defending Freedom – they provide free legal counsel to help college conservatives…and college conservatives need all the help they can get.