A community college in Phoenix is facing a federal lawsuit because it has adopted requirements that essentially charge campus visitors $50 per day for the right to speak there.
The case was brought on behalf of Mesa, Ariz., resident Ryan Arneson, who was prevented from expressing his Christian beliefs on campus “because of the college system’s burdensome requirements.”
The ADF first approached the school about the concerns last year, when it told Chancellor Rufus Glasper, President Joyce Elsner and others that the U.S. Constitution’s 1st Amendment does not allow the school to require those who want to speak to others on campus to provide a 14-day advance notice, pay the fee and provide insurance.
“Nor can SMCC continue to regulate based on content by exempting political expression,” the letter said. “Finally, SMCC cannot retain the discretion to pick and choose who must provide fees and insurance.”
WND contacted the school but officials did not provide a comment or response.
The ADF included a motion that was heard in federal court this week to halt the college’s activities immediately.
The motion for a preliminary injunction explained Arneson is a Christian minister who simply wants to share his religious beliefs.
“Arneson does so peacefully through one-on-one conversation and literature distribution. Toward this end, Arneson wants to convey his Christian message in the open, outdoor areas on the main campus of SMCC,” the motion said.
“These open, outdoor areas at SMCC resemble public parks, public sidewalks, and public pedestrian malls and are well suited for Arneson’s expression. Students and non-students have free access to these areas and commonly use them.”
The minister had visited the campus periodically from 2009 to 2011 without any conflict, but “following the 2011 spring semester, SMCC began to require Arnseon to pay fees to engage in any expression at SMCC …”
Those fees were set by the college at $50 per day or $125 per week. The policy also demands a 14-day advance application and that a speaker get insurance and present a “certificate of insurance” to the college.
“Free speech is protected by the First Amendment, which means it can’t come with a price tag and a burdensome waiting period,” Jonathan Scruggs, the ADF’s litigation staff counsel, said. “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.”
The motion asking for immediate court help in the dispute said Arneson likely will prevail in his fight for 1st Amendment rights against the school’s “limitations on his expression in public places,” but the rules that were set up are based on the content of the message as well.
The school policies “textually single out political content for special treatment over religious expression,” the motion said. They “explicitly exempt expression about political candidates and about political referenda from their requirements … Persons soliciting religious content and distributing religious material at SMCC fall under the solicitation policies and are subject to those harsh burdens. … The distinction turns solely on the content a person solicits and/or distributes.”
The case argues, “At SMCC, what a person says determines how freely that person may speak.”