BATTLE CREEK, MI – Kellogg Community College denies violating constitutional free-speech rights of a conservative youth group.
KCC said the national movement, Young Americans for Liberty, was spoiling for a fight when three members – all non-students – were arrested for trespassing in September after blocking a campus walkway and refusing to register.
The three members, along with at least one student, were handing out copies of the U.S. Constitution.
They could have filled out simple paperwork and moved 100 feet to the Student Center, one of the busiest places on campus, and avoided any trouble, KCC spokesman Eric Greene said.
He said school officials acted after someone complained that the group was blocking the walkway.
“This case is not about free speech or viewpoint discrimination,” Greene said Thursday, June 22.
Young Americans for Liberty at Kellogg Community College filed a federal lawsuit against the school, its Board of Trustees, President Mark O’Connell and other officials.
It is also seeking a preliminary injunction against the school enforcing its solicitation policy.
“When students request permission, the College’s Solicitation Policy (the “Speech Permit Policy”) grants KCC officials unbridled discretion to restrict the content and viewpoint of students speech if it does not ‘support the mission of Kellogg Community College or the mission of a recognized college entity or activity,'” Travis Barham, an attorney for Alliance Defending Freedom, wrote in the lawsuit.
He said students risk sanctions, including expulsion, for exercising free-speech rights at a college campus, traditionally thought to be a “marketplace of ideas.”
Grand Valley State University faced a similar lawsuit. GVSU adopted a revised policy and paid $11,025 in the legal fees and costs to the plaintiffs.
In Battle Creek, KCC says it has a valid solicitation policy that includes a simple request process. If the group is unaffiliated with a KCC entity, it has to seek sponsorship of a school group.
Content of speech is not considered when approving or denying an application, attorney Megan Norris said.
“Despite the constitutional jargon contained in the complaint …, this case is not about free speech,” Norris wrote.
“This case is not about an overbroad or vague solicitation policy unreasonably enforced on a public college campus. This case is not about viewpoint discrimination. Quite simply, this case is about whether Plaintiffs can ignore Defendant Kellogg Community College’s facially valid solicitation policy to further the national Young Americans for Liberty’s ‘Fight for Free Speech’ campaign, which seeks to ‘challenge and reform the restrictive speech codes on (college) campuses. … (T)he answer is a resounding no.”
Norris said the “overwhelming majority of courts” have rejected claims against solicitation policies similar to KCC’s.
She said that the campaign encourages use of video during encounters with campus officials “in order to ‘gain legal standing,’ further stating, ‘If a college or university is continually put into a bad light by the media for representing student’s rights on campus, the administration will be more likely to change the problematic speech codes before they start to lose donors.'”
She said that the group is not a registered student organization at KCC.
The trouble came around noon on Sept. 20.
At least three times, public-safety officers advised Michelle Gregoire, a plaintiff, and others that they needed to fill out a Student Life form and move to an approved area, Chief Harold West said in an affidavit.
The lawsuit said Gregoire was a KCC student then. KCC said she was not.
Gregoire and Nathan Berning, a field representative for the Leadership Institute, and Isaac Edikauskas, vice president of Young Americans for Liberty at Michigan State University, were arrested for trespassing.
Charges were later dismissed.