Pro-life student group’s lawsuit prompts end to unconstitutional speech zone policies at Oregon college

Friday, Jan 8, 2021
SALEM, Ore. – Chemeketa Community College has agreed to change its unconstitutional policies that restricted outdoor speech to two small areas, less than 1.5% of the 100-acre campus, and required students to secure permission at least two weeks in advance before speaking in those areas. As part of a settlement ending a federal lawsuit Alliance Defending Freedom attorneys filed on behalf of the campus chapter of Students for Life, the college agreed to revise its policies so that all students can speak freely and openly on campus.

“The only permit students need to speak on campus is the First Amendment,” said ADF Legal Counsel Michael Ross. “Chemeketa Community College’s previous policy placed a restriction on these fundamental freedoms by confining students to so-called ‘speech zones’ and requiring reservations weeks in advance. Thankfully, Chemeketa has agreed to revise these unconstitutional policies and help ensure that all students can engage in free expression on campus.”

On May 5, 2020, ADF attorneys, representing Marcos Sanchez and Emma Howell, filed a lawsuit after the school prevented the students from speaking on campus. As co-presidents of the school’s Students for Life chapter, Sanchez and Howell desire to create a culture of life, love, and compassion on Chemeketa’s campus by educating others on pro-life topics and providing practical benefits to others at Chemeketa, including passing out resources for a local pregnancy center. The students have refrained from doing so, however, to avoid violating the college’s policies restricting speech. Under the settlement agreement, Chemeketa Community College has agreed to remove its unconstitutional speech zones, and the prior-permission requirement for these zones, both of which were used to silence students. The college has also paid $25,000 in attorneys’ fees for restricting speech and violating students’ constitutional rights.

“Today’s college students are our future legislators, judges, and voters. That’s why it’s so important that public colleges model the First Amendment values they’re supposed to be teaching students,” said ADF Senior Counsel Tyson Langhofer, director of the ADF Center for Academic Freedom. “Pro-life students—like all students—have the freedom to share messages of hope and healing anywhere on campus, and without first asking college administrators for permission to speak.”

“Across the nation, we are seeing incredible opposition to the pro-life speech of our student leaders and volunteers as they speak for the defenseless and educate their fellow students on abortion,” said Students for Life of America President Kristan Hawkins. “But the law and the Constitution are clear on the matter: Public schools cannot silence pro-life groups or force them to self-censor. We are thankful that Chemeketa Community College clarified that Students for Life—and all students—can participate in the open exchange of ideas and ensure that the entire college community is a ‘free speech zone’ for pro-life students and their peers.”

In light of the settlement reached in Chemeketa Students for Life v. Members of the Chemeketa Board of Education, ADF attorneys voluntarily dismissed the lawsuit on Friday.

Students for Life of America is a national pro-life organization dedicated to training and equipping students to lead local pro-life student groups at high schools and universities. It has more than 1,250 groups in all 50 states.

  • Pronunciation guide: Chemeketa (chuh-MEH’-kih-tuh), Langhofer (LANG’-hoff-ur)

The ADF Center for Academic Freedom is dedicated to ensuring freedom of speech and association for students and faculty so that everyone can freely participate in the marketplace of ideas without fear of government censorship.
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