On June 8, Priests for Life Youth Outreach Director Bryan Kemper and pro-life advocates participating in a rally against the Obama HHS mandate were silenced by local police, who told them they couldn’t hold their pro-life signs. Now, they have filed a First Amendment lawsuit against Sinclair Community College in Ohio and its campus police.
Kemper the founder of Stand True Ministry, was a speaker at the Stand Up for Religious Freedom Rally at the college. The rally was one of 100 such rallies taking place across the country that day to protest the Obama administration’s mandate that all employers have to provide free contraception, abortifacient drugs and sterilization services for their workers.
Campus police would not allow demonstrators to hold their signs at the rally, continuing a tradition of First Amendment violations that, according to the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), has been going on at the school for 22 years.
“Schools are meant for the free expression of ideas, but Sinclair has taken the stance that its students must check their free speech rights at the door,” said Peter Breen executive director and legal counsel of the Thomas More Society, which filed the lawsuit in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Ohio on behalf of two Sinclair students and Kemper.
“It is imperative that we fight for our rights to not be taken away or it will be almost impossible to fight to get them back,” Kemper said. “I am fighting this injustice not just for me, but for my son Jaemison, who was there watching the rights of so many being trampled.
“Jaemison may only be 7 years old,” Kemper continued, “but he and his and his siblings will someday face a situation when their rights and liberties may be challenged. I want him to have the courage and the means to stand true when that day comes and to know that his father refused to cower in the face of adversity.”
Father Frank Pavone, National Director of Priests for Life, commented on the lawsuit.
“Thank you, Sinclair Community College and police department. There are few better ways to motivate pro-life people than to tell them to shut up. I’m not sure if it’s our message or the First Amendment that you don’t fully understand, but we’re going to see to it that you learn more about both,” he said.
Robert Shibley, Senior Vice President of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), which has come to the students’ defense, also commented on the lawsuit.
“Sinclair Community College’s censorship is so plainly unconstitutional that it’s difficult to understand how campus police and administrators justify it even to themselves,” he said. “Now they’re going to have to try to justify it in court.”
Such censorship has apparently been taking place at SCC for more than 20 years. According to The Clarion (PDF), SCC’s campus newspaper, campus police have enforced a policy against signs at SCC since 1990, justifying this censorship through an extremely broad reading of the college’s Campus Access Policy.
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FIRE wrote to SCC President Steven Lee Johnson on June 15, asking SCC to disavow the censorship of TVC’s event by the SCC police and to promise never to enforce such a ban against signs in the future. SCC’s response was to ask for more time to make a decision and then to reiterate its policy. In the meantime, however, SCC’s policy has already further prevented TVC from protesting the United States Supreme Court’s recent health care decision in a timely fashion.
“Twenty-two years of censorship is absolutely inexcusable, and Sinclair’s persistent delay has now prevented yet another protest,” said FIRE’s Shibley. “The time for delay is over.”