Columbus State Community College has reached a settlement agreement in an Alliance Defending Freedom lawsuit filed on behalf of a student. The college had prohibited the student from distributing pro-life fliers on campus except with advance permission and then only in one of two small “speech zones.”
Under the terms of the settlement, students and the general public are now free to express themselves without notice in any publicly-accessible outdoor area of campus. The college eliminated the former speech zones, which occupied less than 1 percent of the college’s main campus. In light of the settlement, the student voluntarily dismissed his lawsuit Wednesday.
“Colleges should be the marketplace of ideas,” said Senior Legal Counsel David Hacker. “Free speech should not be limited to a tiny area on campus, nor should students need permission to hand out fliers. We commend Columbus State Community College for revising its speech policy so that students and the public can freely express themselves peacefully nearly anywhere on campus, regardless of their religious or political beliefs.”
In June, college officials required student Spencer Anderson 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 speech zones comprised 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.
In August, Alliance Defending Freedom attorneys filed the lawsuit Anderson v. Harrison in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Ohio. The lawsuit explained 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 and gave “college officials unbridled discretion to discriminate against speech based on its content or viewpoint.”
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“The First Amendment protects free, spontaneous discourse on college campuses,” added Senior Counsel Kevin Theriot. “We hope other colleges will follow Columbus State Community College’s example and update their speech policies so that students’ freedoms can be protected.”
Matthew J. Burkhart, one of nearly 2,300 attorneys allied with Alliance Defending Freedom, served as local counsel in the case.