A Tale of Two Colleges: How One Community College in Oregon Is Silencing Student Speech

By Danielle Bliven posted on:
May 6, 2020

As a sophomore at Patrick Henry College in Virginia, I value the opportunity to sharpen my own beliefs through hearing and discussing different perspectives on campus. Thankfully, my college upholds the First Amendment rights of its students—as it should. I am encouraged not to suppress my beliefs but to share them with those around me in an open and peaceable manner.

Marcos Sanchez, a sophomore at Chemeketa Community College in Salem, Oregon, has had a very different experience.


First Amendment under Attack

Marcos has a passion for life—all life. He is president of the Students for Life club on campus. Through that club, he seeks to share his passion for life with those around him.

Unlike my school, however, Chemeketa Community College does not encourage free speech or expression on its campus. Before engaging in any expressive activity, students are required to get permission from school authorities two weeks in advance. And even if permission is granted, student speech is confined to a “free speech zone”—an area that makes up roughly 1 percent of campus.

These restrictions on student speech are unconstitutional. Chemeketa Community College has a duty to uphold the First Amendment rights of its students.

That’s why Alliance Defending Freedom filed a lawsuit against Chemeketa Community College, standing with Marcos to secure his First Amendment right on campus. Public colleges and universities cannot require their students to get permission to exercise their First Amendment rights. The Constitution—the highest law of the land—is the only permission slip students need to engage in free speech.

All college students, regardless of their beliefs, should be encouraged to exercise their constitutional rights on campus. After all, public colleges and universities should be marketplaces of ideas that promote freedom of thought as they seek to shape the minds of the next generation. Marcos’ generation. My generation.


Stand with Sanchez

I spoke with Marcos a few weeks ago. He told me how much he wants to share his love of life, from conception to natural death, with as many people on campus as he can. He wants students facing crisis pregnancies to know they are not alone. They are supported and loved, not only by Marcos and his club members but also by God. He wants individuals who struggle with disabilities to know they are valuable and that their lives matter. No life—whether in the womb or in a wheelchair—is meaningless or unlovable. Every life matters.

College is an incredible opportunity to broaden your horizons and to find and develop your passions. It has been one of the most life-altering and mind-shaping chapters of my life. But if I was not free to share my own beliefs and encounter opposing viewpoints on my college campus, my experience would be very different. Instead of learning to think for myself and learning from others with different views, I would be learning only the College’s approved worldview.

That’s why it is so important to preserve the First Amendment rights of all students—at Chemeketa Community College and beyond.