A free speech organization says it is fighting officials at Community College of Allegheny County after they first banned a student from trying to organize a chapter of Students for Concealed Carry on Campus, then reaffirmed that activity would not be permitted on campus.
According to a statement from The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, a nonprofit educational foundation that works on behalf of individual rights, due process, freedom of expression, academic freedom, and rights of conscience at colleges and universities, the case involves student Christine Brashier.
She had sought to form the SCCC chapter on the Pittsburgh-area campus and in April created pamphlets to give to classmates encouraging them to join her.
Her pamphlets stated that the group “supports the legalization of concealed carry by licensed individuals on college campuses.” She personally distributed copies of the pamphlets, which identified her as a “Campus Leader” of the effort to start the chapter.
FIRE reported Brashier was ordered into a meeting with school officials, “who told her that passing out her non-commercial pamphlets was prohibited as ‘solicitation.’ Furthermore, they insisted that the college pre-approve any pamphlets, that pamphlets like hers would not be approved, and that Brashier destroy all copies of her pamphlet,” the organization reported.
“At one point during the meeting, Dean Yvonne Burns reportedly said, ‘You may want to discuss this topic but the college does not, and you cannot make us.’ Brashier was warned that any further efforts would be considered ‘academic misconduct.'” FIRE reported.
The organization contacted CCAC President Alex Johnson citing the free speech issues involved and said that if the school recognizes student organizations at all, it must recognize an organization that supports concealed carry on campus.
But in a response from Allegheny County Solicitor Mike Adams, he defended what The FIRE has called “unconstitutional censorship.”
“CCAC’s response was a transparent attempt to defend the indefensible,” said FIRE President Greg Lukianoff. “The college’s justifications for its censorship of Christine Brashier are not only unconstitutional, they are absurd.”
The organization said, “most outrageously, Adams sought to defend CCAC’s policy of demanding prior review and prior restraint of handbills and pamphlets.”
“The Supreme Court has determined that prior restraint is rarely justified, even for national security reasons,” said FIRE Vice President Robert Shibley. “For Allegheny County to argue in favor of a government veto over privately-produced handbills makes a mockery of the First Amendment. Under this reasoning, Thomas Paine should have sought the British government’s permission to distribute his pamphlet ‘Common Sense.'”
“CCAC students, as well as every citizen of Allegheny County, should feel very disappointed by the county’s apparent disregard of fundamental rights. FIRE will continue to pursue this matter until the First Amendment is restored to CCAC’s campus,” Lukianoff said.
School spokesman David Hoovler told WND that the dispute was mischaracterized by FIRE, and school officials had approached the student to encourage her to follow standard procedures in launching a student organization. He said the school also was concerned about the student identifying the group as an already-approved student organization, even though he confirmed the brochure did not state that.