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ADF, FIRE to Bunker Hill Community College: Remember the First Amendment?

By May 30, 2017

Today, Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) sent a letter, co-signed by FIRE and Massachusetts attorney Andrew Beckwith, to Bunker Hill Community College (BHCC). The letter warns BHCC that a number of its policies violate the First Amendment rights of a student group that was stopped while distributing copies of the U.S. Constitution on campus.

ADF and FIRE sent the letter after a May 3, 2017, incident in which college police ordered members of BHCC’s Young Americans for Liberty (YAL) chapter — an unrecognized student group —  to stop distributing copies of the Constitution in an open, outdoor area of campus. But the chapter’s odyssey with BHCC and its policies began back in March, when chapter president Jeff Lyons first sought permission to distribute literature and to invite the political director of the Libertarian Party of Massachusetts to speak on campus. Lyons was told that only recognized student organizations could distribute literature or invite a speaker to campus, and only with prior permission. BHCC has also been sitting on the chapter’s application for official campus recognition for two months, having provided almost no written guidance on the approval process.

BHCC’s treatment of BHCC’s YAL chapter raise serious constitutional concerns. As ADF wrote in its press release:

The letter explains that BHCC’s policies unconstitutionally “prohibit expressive activity on campus without advance permission and approval, restrict the content of printed materials that may be distributed, and grant unbridled discretion” to discriminate against minority viewpoints. The Student Handbook even forbids “students from meeting without official recognition.”

“Constitutionally protected freedom of speech doesn’t disappear as soon as students step on to a public college campus, which is supposed to be the very ‘marketplace of ideas,’” said ADF Legal Counsel Caleb Dalton. “It’s ironic that the college is unconstitutionally prohibiting the distribution of the very document that protects the freedom of Americans to engage in free speech and to associate with one another to advance shared beliefs.”

“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. “BHCC needs to take a hard look at its policies and bring them in line with the Constitution.”

FIRE will keep its readers updated on BHCC’s response to the letter.