A lawsuit has been filed against Grand Valley State University in Allendale, Michigan, after officials there threatened students for failing to restrict their free speech to the 0.03 percent of the campus set aside for that constitutional right.
And it was a beach ball that triggered the confrontation.
The case was filed in U.S. District Court in Michigan by officials with Alliance Defending Freedom, who are fighting on behalf of the Turning Point USA chapter at the school, Tim McKeeby and Joe Tucker.
Defendants include the trustees, Victor M. Cardenas, David S. Hooker, John C. Kennedy, Mary L. Kramer, John G. Russell, Megan S. Sall, David L. Way and Kate Pew Wolters, as well as President Thomas J. Hasas, Provost Gaylwe R. Davis and Associate Dean Bob Stoll.
The school declined to comment on the case.
ADF explained the conflict: “University officials told members of the Turning Point USA chapter at the school that they couldn’t talk to other students about the First Amendment and have them write messages on a large beach ball dubbed a ‘free speech ball’ because the members weren’t standing in one of the two zones.”
Then, ADF said, campus police and administrators “told the students they would be arrested for trespassing if they didn’t cease their expressive activities.”
“Public universities, which are supposed to be the ultimate marketplace of ideas, shouldn’t be stifling students on more than 99.97 percent of campus,” ADF Senior Counsel Tyson Langhofer said in a statement.
“The Turning Point USA students have a constitutionally protected freedom to peacefully share their viewpoints with other students, and those students have the freedom to share their viewpoints as well, whether verbally or in writing on a beach ball. The university can’t play ‘keep away’ with the First Amendment.”
The issue of “free speech zones” has been fought repeatedly. State universities and colleges are held to a separate standard than private universities.
In the Michigan case, ADF said on Oct. 17 club founder Tim McKeeby, member Joe Tucker and two other individuals were in GVSU’s Cook Carillon Tower speech zone, which they had reserved.
They were talking with other students about their freedoms protected by the First Amendment and giving the students the opportunity to write messages on a large beach ball.
Then they “began to walk on sidewalks around campus with the ball and peacefully interact with students.”
“None of the Turning Point USA members were blocking access to buildings or pedestrian traffic.”
While in front of the Student Services Building, they were confronted by administrators and “security,” who told them they were violating campus policy and were “therefore not allowed to conduct expressive activity in this location on campus.”
They could be arrested, the officers told the students.
But then the next month, on Nov. 16, Tucker “observed a large crowd of students holding signs and marching around campus outside of the two small speech zones as they protested the recent election of Donald Trump.”
“The student protestors stood directly outside of the Student Services Building and shouted slogans. The protestors even went inside of the Student Services Building for a period of time.
“Tucker did not observe any GVSU administrator or campus police officer approach the students or order them to stop engaging in their activities as had occurred with the Turning Point USA students,” ADF reported.
The case seeks a court prohibition on enforcement of the speech restrictions and a statement that it violates the U.S. Constitution.
The school’s policies and practices, the case alleges, do not “provide a means for students to speak spontaneously on campus for any purpose.”
“It is GVSU’s policy … that students who engage in expressive activities anywhere on GVSU’s campus outside of the two small speech zones have violated the Code of Student Conduct if a university official asks that the students stop such activity and the students do not comply.”
Security on campus is charged with informing students “they were not allowed to speak with students outside the speech zone.”
But those standards violate the First Amendment’s right to free speech, ban on prior restaint and bans on content and viewpoint discrimination, the case alleges.
“Under the First Amendment’s Free Speech Clause, a prior restraint on citizen expression is presumptively unconstitutional, unless it (1) does not delegate overly broad licensing discretion to a government official, (2) contains only content and viewpoint neutral reasonable time, place, and manner restrictions, (3) is narrowly tailored to serve a significant governmental interest, and (4) leaves open ample alternative means for communication,” the case explains.
The 14th Amendment also is implicated since the school treated the anti-Trump demonstrators differently, the case notes.