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Student club asking court to halt policy that resulted in arrests for handing out Constitution

ADF attorney available to media following hearing Tuesday

Monday, Jul 31, 2017
WHO: Alliance Defending Freedom Legal Counsel Travis Barham
WHAT: Available for media interviews following hearing in Young Americans for Liberty at Kellogg Community College v. Kellogg Community College
WHEN: Tuesday, Aug. 1, immediately following hearing, which begins at 3:30 p.m. EDT
WHERE: U.S. District Court for the Western District of Michigan, 699 Federal Building, Grand Rapids

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. – Alliance Defending Freedom Legal Counsel Travis Barham will be available for media interviews following his arguments in federal court Tuesday on behalf of a Young Americans for Liberty chapter and its members at Kellogg Community College in Battle Creek in a lawsuit against the school. Barham will argue in favor of a motion filed in May that asks for the school’s speech policies to be suspended after campus security arrested three people handing out copies of the U.S. Constitution while talking with students about the club on a sidewalk.

The school claims the club supporters violated two policies. One states that students must obtain permission from the school before they engage in any expressive activity anywhere on campus, including distribution of any written material. It also prohibits any speech that does not “support the mission of Kellogg Community College (KCC) or the mission of a recognized college entity or activity.” The other policy prevents students from engaging in expressive activities in any outdoor location.

The lawsuit explains that these policies are unconstitutional because they grant college officials too much discretion to restrict the content and viewpoint of student speech, because they require students to get permission before speaking, and because they set all outdoor areas off limits to student speech.

“Like all public colleges, KCC is supposed to be ‘the marketplace of ideas,’ but instead, it arrested these club supporters for exercising their freedom of speech, and, ironically, for handing out copies of the very document—the Constitution—that protects what they were doing,” said Barham. “Because public colleges have the duty to protect and promote the First Amendment’s guarantee of free speech, we are asking the court to prevent KCC from enforcing its unconstitutional policies while our lawsuit proceeds.”

On Sept. 20 of last year, Brandon Withers and Michelle Gregoire, along with three other YAL supporters were on a large, open walkway in front of the Binda Performing Arts Center on KCC’s campus talking with students about the club and handing out pocket-sized copies of the U.S. Constitution. Withers, Gregoire, and the other supporters were not blocking access to buildings or pedestrian traffic and were not interfering with any KCC activities or other planned events on campus.

KCC administrators and campus security eventually approached them and said that they were violating KCC’s policies because they had not obtained prior permission from the college and because they were not allowed to conduct expressive activity in this location on campus.

In the exchange, captured on video, one of the administrators told the supporters that “engaging [students] in conversation on their way to educational places” is a violation because it is an “obstruction to their education” to ask them questions like, “Do you like freedom and liberty?,” adding that he was concerned that the students from “rural farm areas…might not feel like they have the choice to ignore the question.”

The officials instructed Withers, Gregoire, and the others that they must immediately stop engaging in their speech activities and leave campus. When Gregoire and two of the other club supporters politely informed KCC’s chief of public safety that they were going to continue exercising their First Amendment freedoms by talking with students and handing out copies of the Constitution, he arrested them and charged them with trespass. After ADF and allied attorney Jeshua Lauka intervened, the charges were dropped, but the policies restricting student speech remain in effect.

Lauka, with the Grand Rapids law firm David & Wierenga, P.C. is serving as local counsel in the case.
  • Pronunciation guide: Barham (BEAR’-um)

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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