Category: Free Speech
In February 2019, Jones County Junior College student Mike Brown and a friend went to campus to recruit members for his student group, Young Americans for Liberty (YAL). They set up a “free speech ball” (an oversized inflatable beach ball) and invited passing students to write messages of their choice on the ball, talking to them about free speech and the club. When they rolled the ball by the administration building, however, administrators called campus police and Brown was summoned to the chief of police’s office. The chief informed him that he couldn’t have a free speech ball anywhere on campus because he hadn’t obtained the college’s permission ahead of time. His friend, a non-student, was told to leave campus immediately or risk arrest.
In April, Brown and two others stood on a campus plaza holding a sign that invited passing students to mark whether they thought marijuana should be illegal, legal for medical use, or legal for recreational use. Right after arriving, several students approached to talk about marijuana laws and other civil liberties issues important to YAL. The conversation was cut short, however, when an administrator again called the campus police on Brown. He was once again brought to the chief of police’s office and told he was “smarter than that” and should have known he wasn’t allowed to engage in any expressive activity on campus without permission. His non-student friend was, again, told to leave campus on pain of arrest.
In September, Brown filed a lawsuit challenging Jones’ unconstitutional speech codes requiring students to apply for administrative permission for any speech or expressive activity anywhere on campus at least three days in advance, and in some cases longer.
In November, the college finalized a settlement with Brown. As part of the settlement, Jones College agreed to implement a policy allowing students to express themselves without permission. The policy also adopts language from the “Report of the Committee on Freedom of Expression” at the University of Chicago (better known as the “Chicago Statement”). Jones College will join 77 other institutions nationwide in adopting this principled statement on free expression. The college also agreed to pay $40,000 for attorneys’ fees and damages.
Brown was represented by Cody W. Gibson of Gibson & Mullenix, PLLC, and FIRE attorneys Marieke Tuthill Beck-Coon and Greg Harold Greubel.