A Michigan community college faces a lawsuit over a U.S. Constitution giveaway that ended with its students arrested for trespassing.
Kellogg Community College students Brandon Withers and Michelle Gregoire were arrested Sept. 20, 2015, in Battle Creek after they refused to stop handing out copies of the U.S. Constitution on campus. Officials cited the school’s Solicitation Policy, which requires permission for such behavior, before having the Young Americans for Liberty members and a friend arrested.
Alliance Defending Freedom, a nonprofit legal organization that “advocates for the right of people to freely live out their faith,” filed a lawsuit on their behalf Wednesday in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Michigan.
“Today’s college students will be tomorrow’s legislators, judges, commissioners, and voters,” ADF Senior Counsel Casey Mattox said in a statement released Wednesday. “That’s why it’s so important that public universities model the First Amendment values they are supposed to be teaching to students, and why it should disturb everyone that KCC and many other colleges are communicating to a generation that the Constitution doesn’t matter.”
ADF’s lawsuit claims KCC’s “Speech Zone Policy” and the wording of its code of conduct create an unconstitutional veto over speech. The plaintiffs also claim the school selectively enforces its Solicitation Policy. They cite a 2015 instance where members of an LGBT group Spectrum were allegedly allowed to distribute literature without an “information table.”
“Defendants were aware of Spectrum’s expressive activities, allowed them to take place, and took no action to stop them or limit them to an information table, despite their Speech Zone Policy,” the lawsuit states. “In the spring of 2016, Mr. Withers observed a representative of another political organization gathering signatures for a petition in the outdoor, generally accessible areas of campus. Upon information and belief, Defendants did not require this representative of this political organization to obtain administrative permission before engaging in his expressive activities and took no action to stop his expression, despite their Speech Permit Policy.”
The lawsuit seeks to have the school’s “speech permit” and “speech zone” policies ruled a violation of First and Fourteenth Amendment rights. “Compensatory and nominal damages” are also sought over Ms. Gregoire’s arrest.
The plaintiffs spent seven hours in jail before bond was posted.
Attorney Jeshua T. Lauka of the Grand Rapids law firm David Wierenga, P.C., will serve as the plaintiffs’ local counsel, ADF said.