College drops prohibition on student expression without dean’s permission, had restricted speech to .001% of campus
Wednesday, November 08, 2017
Attorney sound bite: Caleb Dalton
DETROIT – Alliance Defending Freedom attorneys have secured an agreement from officials at Macomb Community College to drop unconstitutional restrictions that banned students from engaging in expressive activity on campus unless they were granted a permit from the dean or vice president. In practice, even approved speech was limited to a small zone comprising less than .001 percent of the college’s metro Detroit campus.
After being told they were violating school policies and could be punished if they didn’t stop speaking and distributing literature to other students, the Turning Point USA chapter filed a federal lawsuit. The lawsuit challenged the college’s policy that banned all public expression unless it included a permit from an administrator with unrestricted authority to grant or deny those requests.
Under the settlement, MCC has agreed to immediately suspend the challenged policies, and the Board of Trustees will vote on adopting permanent revisions to the policies by the end of the semester. The revisions would eliminate the requirement that students obtain advance approval from campus administrators in order to speak publicly on campus. The college would also affirm that all outdoor areas of campus that are generally open to the public, not just small reserved areas, may be used by students to publicly speak with one another without a permit. The college has agreed to pay the students’ damages and attorneys’ fees.
“Students at a public college shouldn’t have to request permission to exercise their First Amendment freedoms,” said ADF Legal Counsel Caleb Dalton. “We commend the college for acting quickly to suspend these unconstitutional speech restrictions and vote on policies that ensure every student will be able to speak freely and peacefully, regardless of their viewpoint, without fear of being punished.”
In April, MCC police approached three members of the Turning Point USA chapter at the college who were on a large open area of the Clinton Township campus to raise awareness about the value fossil fuels provide to society. Police told the students, one of whom was wearing a T-Rex costume, that they could not talk to other students, offer educational literature, or collect signatures in support of the issue. They further warned the students that they were violating the college’s speech permit policies because they had not obtained pre-approval from an administrator on a different campus, and that they could be deemed to be trespassing if they did not cease their activities.
The college’s speech permit policies gave virtually unlimited discretion to two officials, the dean of Student and Community Services and the vice president of Student Services, to decide whether to grant students or a student club permission to engage in speech. The lawsuit, Turning Point USA at Macomb Community College v. Macomb Community College, noted that this sweeping authority allowed them to deny permits for any reason, including unconstitutional viewpoint discrimination.
“Today’s college students will be tomorrow’s legislators, judges, educators and voters. That’s why it’s so important that public colleges and universities model the First Amendment values they are supposed to be teaching to students,” added ADF Senior Counsel Casey Mattox, director of the ADF Center for Academic Freedom. “We are pleased that the college ultimately did the right thing by agreeing to revise their policies to protect free speech.”
Once officials fulfill the terms of the settlement, ADF will dismiss the lawsuit currently pending before the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan. Michigan attorney Joel J. Kirkpatrick, one of nearly 3,200 attorneys allied with ADF, also serves on the legal team representing the Turning Point USA chapter.