Cameron University student Daniel Harper enlisted the help of Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) to file a lawsuit last week against the university for violating his First Amendment right to hand out flyers on the campus of the public Oklahoma institution. But this isn’t just a matter of Cameron administrators not understanding “time, place, and manner” restrictions or being overly sensitive to certain keywords. No, Cameron is declaring itself to be the single public university not legally bound by the U.S. Constitution.
Harper, a Christian, created and planned on distributing a flyer (PDF) expressing his concerns about the World Mission Society, a religious group that Harper argued was a dangerous cult. ADF’s press release relays the conflict that arose:
After a student complained, university officials told Harper he was not allowed to distribute his fliers because other students found the literature “offensive,” because he did not get prior approval, and because the officials decided that his religious views were “discriminatory,” “slanderous,” and “libelous,” even though the fliers merely expressed his point of view.
Cameron University Equal Opportunity Official Thomas Russell applied the university’s speech code to censor Harper’s constitutionally protected speech.
Russell sent Harper a letter in late February informing him that the distribution of Harper’s flyers constituted religious discrimination and reaffirming the ban on the flyer. Ironically, the letter also includes a reminder to Harper that “religious freedom provides everyone the right to interpret religious beliefs to their own satisfaction.” FIRE agrees—and as Eugene Volokh pointed out in The Washington Post yesterday, Harper has the right to share his interpretation, too.
But this is all, sadly, pretty normal for a campus free speech case. Where Cameron really stands out is with some of the alarming statements made by Russell in the course of defending this act of censorship, as alleged in the complaint (PDF):
Defendant Russell said: “I like those amendments to the Constitution. They are foundations to democracy. But that’s all they are, foundations. You can’t live on them. You’ll freeze to death in winter and burn up in summer.”
[ ] Defendant Russell then explained that the University’s policies are above those “amendments to the Constitution,” and that Mr. Harper needed to follow University policy regardless of his First Amendment rights.
Maybe now that he’s been named in a federal civil rights lawsuit, Russell will come to understand that public institutions of higher education aren’t allowed to simply ignore the First Amendment. We at FIRE look forward to seeing how long Russell or anyone else at Cameron stands by these flatly ridiculous statements. Check back to The Torch for updates.