In an op-ed in Sunday’s San Antonio Express-News, FIRE Associate Director of Litigation Catherine Sevcenko describes why the Stand Up For Speech Litigation Project’s latest plaintiff, Nicole Sanders, decided to sue her school, Blinn College in Texas. Catherine also updates some of the other cases in the Stand Up For Speech Litigation Project, which will mark its first anniversary on July 1.
As Torch readers may recall, Sanders filed a First Amendment lawsuit against Blinn after college administrators, accompanied by three armed police officers, told Sanders she needed “special permission” to display signs and recruit students for the Young Americans for Liberty student group she was organizing. Catherine explains that Blinn administrators did not stop there. Sanders wanted to help make students aware of their Fourth and Fifth Amendment rights, so she put together a card to hand out explaining these rights. It took administrators at Blinn six weeks to approve the card.
In the op-ed, Catherine makes it clear that at a public college like Blinn, the First Amendment allows Sanders to discuss the Bill of Rights without asking for permission.
Blinn College administrators aren’t lawyers, but they should know that while the Fifth Amendment may give them the right to remain silent, it does not grant them the power to silence students. Nobody should need prior permission or be forced into a “Free Speech Area” if they want to support the Bill of Rights. The only “Free Speech Area” that matters is the one created by the First Amendment, and that includes all public sidewalks, parks and open spaces — including those at Blinn College.
Sanders’ lawsuit is the 10th in FIRE’s Stand Up For Speech Litigation Project. So far, five of the lawsuits have been settled. At the schools that have settled the lawsuits against them and reformed their unconstitutional policies, First Amendment rights have been restored for approximately 150,000 students.
Catherine encourages students elsewhere to stand up for their rights if administrators are not respecting them.
Students and their tuition-paying parents should not tolerate officials dictating what college students can say, and when and where they can say it. Nicole Sanders is standing up for the First Amendment at Blinn College. If you are a current or prospective college student, alumnus, alumna or professor, will you be the one to defend free speech on your campus?
As always, contact FIRE if you face censorship or other rights violations. We can help.
Read Catherine’s full op-ed at mysanantonio.com.