Maricopa Community Colleges puts price tag on free speech, ends up in court

ADF lawsuit says policy requiring fees, waiting period to engage in free speech is unconstitutional
Wednesday, January 18, 2012

ADF attorney sound bite:  Jon Scruggs

PHOENIX — Alliance Defense Fund attorneys asked a federal court Tuesday to immediately halt a Maricopa Community College policy that puts unconstitutional burdens on visitors if they wish to engage in free speech on the Arizona system’s campuses. The motion was filed as part of a lawsuit filed on Dec. 29 in which ADF attorneys argue that charging fees, requiring an insurance payment, and demanding a two-week advance notice is unconstitutional.

The lawsuit came about after Mesa resident Ryan Arneson was unable to express his Christian beliefs on the campus of South Mountain Community College because of the college system’s burdensome requirements. ADF attorneys originally wrote to MCC officials about the problem in May of last year.

“Free speech is protected by the First Amendment, which means it can’t come with a price tag and a burdensome waiting period,” said ADF Litigation Staff Counsel Jonathan Scruggs. “The courts have routinely ruled policies like this one unconstitutional. Christians visiting public college campuses shouldn’t be deterred from expressing their beliefs because of cumbersome, unconstitutional policies.”

At the beginning of last year, Arneson inquired of an official at South Mountain Community College as to what he must do in order to peacefully share his faith on campus by handing out literature and speaking with willing passers-by as he had done in two previous years without incident. Unlike in previous years, the official instructed Arneson to abide by the college’s solicitation policy even though he is only an individual wishing to engage in individual expression.

The policy requires private individuals and groups alike to pay a minimum $50 fee, pay for insurance, and submit a request form and proof of insurance 14 days prior to visiting campus.

Chris Stovall of Phoenix, one of nearly 2,100 attorneys in the ADF alliance, is serving as local counsel in the lawsuit, Arneson v. Maricopa Community College District, filed with the U.S. District Court for the District of Arizona.

The motion for preliminary injunction filed Tuesday asks the court to suspend the MCC policy while the lawsuit moves forward.
  •  Pronunciation guide: Arneson (ARN’-uh-sin)
ADF is a legal alliance of Christian attorneys and like-minded organizations defending the right of people to freely live out their faith. Launched in 1994, ADF employs a unique combination of strategy, training, funding, and litigation to protect and preserve religious liberty, the sanctity of life, marriage, and the family.