By Joni B. Hannigan
After a Michigan college student wearing a T-Rex dinosaur costume set out to talk to fellow students about fossil fuels this past spring, he and other members of a campus-based organization were told they had violated the college’s speech permit policies.
Last week, Alliance Defending Freedom attorneys filed a federal lawsuit representing the students to challenge the policy at Macomb Community College in Clinton Township, Michigan that bans students from engaging in public expression without first seeking a permit from administrators.
The students are members of Turning Point USA, a network of college chapters across the country teaching its members to “promote the principles of freedom, free markets and limited government.”
“[P]ublic colleges are supposed to be budding laboratories for democracy,” ADF Legal Counsel Caleb Dalton said in a news release. “By banning free speech, requiring permission for any public expressive activity, and even then only permitting public expression on .001 percent of the campus, college officials aren’t respecting the constitutionally protected freedoms of students.”
Even if a student’s application is approved at MCC, T-Rex and other members of TPUSA could be assigned to a tiny speech zone – less than one percent — of the 230-acre park-like campus with open public access, the lawsuit explains.
The ADF lawsuit charges these practices violate the First Amendment’s guarantee of free speech – and further alleges two school officials have “virtually unlimited discretion” to make decisions not clearly defined in a college handbook.
The regulation of student speech policies relies on “unwritten practices and procedures,” according to the lawsuit, and in effect censors expression by forbidding “spontaneous” or “anonymous” speech or “expressive activity on campus for any purpose.”
“Today’s college students will be tomorrow’s legislators, judges, college administrators, and voters,” said ADF Senior Counsel Casey Mattox, director of the Center for Academic Freedom, in the release. “It should disturb everyone when any college communicates to a generation that the Constitution doesn’t matter.”
The students named in the lawsuit are TPUSA president Julia Kovacova, Hannah Osantowske, and Jaclyn Broh.
Kovacova is an immigrant from Slovakia whose family was persecuted for its Catholic faith and their freedom of speech suppressed under the formerly communist government. Osantowske’s relatives served in the U.S. Armed Forces, and Brohl is the granddaughter of a woman from East Germany who escaped across the Berlin wall from where her freedoms where suppressed by the German Democratic Government. All three are committed to speak out on the “principles of freedom,” according to the complaint.
A spokeswoman for Macomb Community College told a local newspaper “the college does not comment on pending litigation.”
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