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A college in Ohio has decided that students’ constitutional rights are available on a whopping 1 percent of its campus, and it has ended up in court because of the decision.
In a lawsuit brought by the Alliance Defending Freedom, it is alleged a student was prohibited from exercising his speech by passing out pro-life fliers anywhere on campus except for a small “speech zone.”
“Colleges should be the marketplace of ideas,” said David Hacker, a senior legal counsel for the organization. “Free speech should not be censored or limited to a ridiculously small area on campus, nor should students need permission to hand out flyers.
“The First Amendment protects freedom of speech for all students in the outdoor areas of campus, regardless of their religious or political beliefs,” he continued.
The organization said Columbus State Community College, which has campuses in several areas of Columbus, limits student speech to two small speech zones that occupy less than 1 percent of the college’s main campus.
And students are required to get permission for their speech in advance.
According to the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, the case was brought on behalf of student Spencer Anderson
The organization said the colleges solicitation policy governs the “dissemination or posting of any verbal, written, or pictorial material such as flyers, notices, requests to pledge or join any organization.”
Under a subheading titled “Assembly,” it describes the college’s two “designated areas for public speech and assembly” and demands “all organizations and individuals must request to use this space for public speech and solicitation and must do so in writing at least one business day in advance.”
“Policies like CSCC’s that grant administrators broad discretion give them ample opportunity to allow or disallow expression based on the content or viewpoint that the speaker wishes to share, and CSCC administrators may very well have taken advantage of that opportunity,” The FIRE report said.
“CSCC students, it would seem, are not mean to be active, are not meant to challenge each others’ views or share information with each other in the hopes of sparking a discussion or changing someone’s mind,” the report said. “But this idea is anathema to the purpose of college and, needless to say, in terrible conflict with the principles of the First Amendment.”
According to the ADF, it was in June when Anderson, a Christian student at Columbus State Community College, was required by college officials to get a permit 48 hours in advance to distribute fliers about his new pro-life student group.
“Officials assigned him to one of the two speech zones and forbade him from exiting the zone to speak with people or hand out his fliers,” the organization said.
According to the complaint, the speech zones comprise less than 1 percent of the college’s 80-acre campus. In April, Anderson was involved in another pro-life display on campus subjected to similar restrictions.
Meanwhile, college officials have approved other groups, such as students associated with People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, to distribute flyers and speak to students outside the speech zones.
The lawsuit explains that the college’s speech policy prohibits students from speaking spontaneously in reaction to news and current events on the public sidewalks and open spaces of the campus.
“Free, spontaneous discourse on college campuses is supposed to be a hallmark of higher education rather than the exception to the rule,” added Senior Counsel Kevin Theriot. “We hope that Columbus State Community College will revise its policy so that its students can exercise their constitutionally protected freedoms.”