Alliance Defending Freedom filed a lawsuit Monday on behalf of a student prohibited from distributing pro-life fliers anywhere on campus except a small “speech zone.” Columbus State Community College limits student speech to two small speech zones that occupy less than one percent of the college’s main campus and requires students to get permission to use the zones 48 hours in advance.
“Colleges should be the marketplace of ideas,” said Senior Legal Counsel David Hacker. “Free speech should not be censored or limited to a ridiculously small area on campus, nor should students need permission to hand out fliers. The First Amendment protects freedom of speech for all students in the outdoor areas of campus, regardless of their religious or political beliefs.”
In June, Spencer 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. 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.
College officials have approved other groups, such as students associated with People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, to distribute fliers 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. According to the complaint, the policy violates the First Amendment and grants “college officials unbridled discretion to discriminate against speech based on its content or viewpoint.”
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“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.”
Matthew J. Burkhart, one of nearly 2,300 allied attorneys with Alliance Defending Freedom, is serving as local counsel in Anderson v. Harrison filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Ohio.