Massachusetts college changes speech policy so students can hand out copies of US

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BOSTON – Attorneys with Alliance Defending Freedom and the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education have secured policy changes from officials at Bunker Hill Community College that eliminate unconstitutional restrictions on free speech that the school used to halt students from passing out copies of the U.S. Constitution.

In addition, the Massachusetts Community College System, of which Bunker Hill is a part, has agreed to review policies with similar problems at several other of its campuses.

Following an incident in May in which Bunker Hill students were ordered by campus police to immediately stop passing out free pocket-sized copies of the Constitution, ADF and FIRE attorneys notified the college that its policies violated students’ free speech. In response, the college acknowledged that it “should not have directed members of Young Americans for Liberty to stop distributing copies of the U.S. Constitution in an open, outdoor area on campus….” The college also agreed to ensure that “there is no blanket ban on student rights to distribute materials on campus or to engage in spontaneous speech absent pre-approval.”

After working with college and college system officials to correct the policies, ADF and FIRE sent a subsequent letter on Wednesday to the Massachusetts Community College System to commend them for making the needed changes to the Bunker Hill speech permit policy and to inform the larger system that policies at several other colleges within the system are also flawed. MCCS responded promptly on Thursday and agreed to review those policies.

“A college campus should be a marketplace of ideas where students can peacefully express their views without fear of punishment,” said ADF Legal Counsel Caleb Dalton. “We commend Bunker Hill for adopting policy changes that protect free speech. These changes serve as a model to guide other schools, including other schools within the Massachusetts Community College System.”

On May 3, Bunker Hill campus police ordered members of the new Young Americans for Liberty chapter at the college’s Charlestown campus to stop handing out free copies of the Constitution. The police informed the students, led by chapter president and Navy veteran Jeff Lyons, that they were violating Bunker Hill policy because they did not have a permit to do so and then reported them for violations of the student code.

“Students at a public college shouldn’t have to ask for a government permission slip to exercise their most basic First Amendment freedoms,” said FIRE Director of Litigation Marieke Tuthill Beck-Coon. “That’s why we’re pleased that Bunker Hill has acted to respect the First Amendment by changing the speech policy and allowing students to hand out copies of the Constitution freely. We’re also pleased that the Massachusetts Community College System is willing to review policies at some of its other schools which, if left unchanged, could result in the same sort of problem happening on those campuses that happened at Bunker Hill.”

“Today’s college students will be tomorrow’s legislators, judges, councilors, and voters. That’s why it is so important that public colleges and universities model the First Amendment values they are supposed to be teaching to students,” said ADF Senior Counsel Casey Mattox, director of the ADF Center for Academic Freedom. “It should disturb everyone when any college communicates to a generation that the Constitution doesn’t matter. In this case, the college did the right thing in deciding to safeguard free speech, and the larger system is doing the right thing in ensuring its other campuses do likewise. Students shouldn’t have to jump through unconstitutional hoops to share ideas.”

The ADF Center for Academic Freedom is dedicated to ensuring freedom of speech and association for students and faculty so that everyone can freely participate in the marketplace of ideas without fear of government censorship. FIRE is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization dedicated to defending liberty, freedom of speech, due process, academic freedom, legal equality, and freedom of conscience on America’s college campuses.

Massachusetts attorney Andrew Beckwith, one of more than 3,200 attorneys allied with ADF, also serves on the legal team representing YAL.

Alliance Defending Freedom is an alliance-building, non-profit legal organization that advocates for the right of people to freely live out their faith.


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