Battle at Bunker Hill for free speech

ADF, FIRE send letter to Bunker Hill Community College after it ordered students to stop distributing US Constitution
Tuesday, May 30, 2017

BEDFORD, Mass. – Alliance Defending Freedom and the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education sent a letter Tuesday to Bunker Hill Community College over its speech and student organization policies after it ordered students with the campus Young Americans for Liberty chapter to stop distributing copies of the U.S. Constitution.

The letter explains that BHCC’s policies unconstitutionally “prohibit expressive activity on campus without advance permission and approval, restrict the content of printed materials that may be distributed, and grant unbridled discretion” to discriminate against minority viewpoints. The Student Handbook even forbids “students from meeting without official recognition.”

“Constitutionally protected freedom of speech doesn’t disappear as soon as students step on to a public college campus, which is supposed to be the very ‘marketplace of ideas,’” said ADF Legal Counsel Caleb Dalton. “It’s ironic that the college is unconstitutionally prohibiting the distribution of the very document that protects the freedom of Americans to engage in free speech and to associate with one another to advance shared beliefs.”

“Students at a public college shouldn’t have to ask for a government permission slip to exercise their most basic First Amendment freedoms,” said FIRE Director of Litigation Marieke Tuthill Beck-Coon. “BHCC needs to take a hard look at its policies and bring them in line with the Constitution.”

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. FIRE is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization dedicated to defending liberty, freedom of speech, due process, academic freedom, legal equality, and freedom of conscience on America’s college campuses.

College police ordered the students to stop handing out the Constitution in an open, outdoor area of campus because they aren’t part of an officially recognized student organization, and college policy requires advance approval for all literature distribution. ADF and FIRE explain in the letter that such a restriction is unconstitutional, as students have freedom of speech regardless of whether they are part of an officially recognized club. However, the letter also explains that the only reason the chapter hasn’t been recognized is because the college has been sitting on YAL’s application for two months and has provided almost no written approval policies or procedures, leaving judgments about club recognition to the whims of administrators.

“BHCC policies forbid the distribution of literature unless it is pre-approved and the speakers assigned a specific location,” the joint ADF-FIRE letter explains. “Furthermore, BHCC policies restrict the content of literature distributed, prohibit anonymous speech, prohibit spontaneous speech, and grant unbridled discretion to administrators who may approve or disapprove of the speech based on its content or viewpoint. Each of these restrictions violate the First Amendment.”

The letter asks the school to respond within two weeks to avoid litigation, and indicate that it will revise the existing problematic policies, approve the club’s recognition, and create constitutional written criteria for approving student organizations.

Massachusetts attorney Andrew Beckwith, one of nearly 3,200 attorneys allied with ADF, also signed the letter and serves on the legal team representing YAL.
 
  • Pronunciation guide: Marieke (Mahr-EE’-kah)

Alliance Defending Freedom is an alliance-building, non-profit legal organization that advocates for the right of people to freely live out their faith.
 
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