But, shockingly, that’s exactly what’s happened.
In September, five members of the libertarian youth activist group Young Americans for Liberty (YAL) were arrested for handing out pocket-sized U.S. Constitutions at Kellogg Community College in Battle Creek, Michigan. According to the college, they were in violation of school policy which states that students must get special permission before engaging in activism of any sort on campus, including distribution of literature.
Sarah Kramer with the Christian legal non-profit Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) described the students’ version of the events:
“Do you like freedom and liberty?”
That’s the question Kellogg Community College student Brandon Withers and a few of his friends were asking as they passed out copies of the Constitution and spoke to their fellow students about starting a chapter of Young Americans for Liberty (YAL) on campus.While this seems innocuous enough, it was later that day that campus security confronted the group, put three of them in handcuffs for “trespassing,” and escorted them to the county jail where they spent seven hours.
On Wednesday, the Kellogg Community College Chapter of YAL announced it was filing a lawsuit with the help of ADF. YAL Executive Director Cliff Maloney Jr. said in a press release, “Unfortunately, restricting free speech on public university campuses has become the new norm… Historically, universities have served as a beacon of intellectual thought and we cannot let these open discussions become stifled.”
There has been an uptick in recent years in the number of cases involving campus free speech, something even President Obama has expressed concerns about, referring specifically to university administrations that have cracked down on diverse views, particularly those coming from the right side of the ideological spectrum. The Kellogg College case may or may not fit into that category when this controversy is resolved, but the students obviously feel their basic constitutional rights are under attack.
ADF legal counsel Travis Barham said in a statement, “All public colleges—which are supposed to be the ‘marketplace of ideas’—have the duty to protect and promote the First Amendment’s guarantee of free speech.”
“Ignoring this duty, KCC arrested these club supporters for exercising this freedom, and, ironically, for handing out copies of the very document—the Constitution—that protects what they were doing.” he added.
Disclosure: I am a former employee and frequent speaker for Young Americans for Liberty.