Yesterday, Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) announced that a lawsuit it filed on behalf of two Paradise Valley Community College students last year has been settled—with great results for students at PVCC and the other nine colleges of the Maricopa County Community College District in Arizona. As part of the settlement, MCCCD will eliminate free speech zones on all 10 of its campuses, leaving members of the campus community free to express themselves, without notice, in both outdoor and indoor common areas that have not been reserved for another purpose.
In its press release, ADF summarized the events leading up to the lawsuit:
In October of last year, Brittany Mirelez, a student at PVCC, set up a table in the speech zone to talk with other students about joining the Young Americans for Liberty student group she was trying to start at PVCC and to hand out copies of the U.S. Constitution. …
Shortly after setting up her table, an administrator informed Mirelez that she was not allowed to be in the speech zone because she did not obtain prior permission 48 hours in advance as the college’s Guidelines for Public Expression on Campus requires. The administrator instructed her to set up her table in the cafeteria, which was not included in the speech zone, as a one-time concession only and said she must abide by the college’s public expression policy going forward.
The policy prohibited students from speaking in any areas on campus outside of the speech zone, including on public sidewalks, walkways, lawns, and other outdoor areas. Instead, students were required to confine their expressive activities to the zone, and if the zone was fully reserved, they could not speak at all.
In addition to the requirement that student expression take place only in free speech zones, and only with permission in advance, students were previously allowed to publicly express themselves only between 9:00 a.m. and 4:00 p.m., Monday through Friday, “subject to summer and holiday college closures.” Mirelez and her peers are now subject to none of those restrictions.
As ADF Senior Counsel Tyson Langhofer aptly remarked, “Colleges are supposed to be a place where ideas are freely shared, not gagged. … Colleges shouldn’t short-circuit their own purpose by placing their own restrictive speech rules above the freedoms that the First Amendment guarantees to students and all Americans.”
FIRE couldn’t agree more, and we are happy to see MCCCD’s policies revised so that students can speak freely and spontaneously throughout campus. The ability to do so is critically important, particularly as students become more politically engaged and seek to respond to current events and campus conversations in real time.
If you’ve had an encounter like Mirelez’s or have otherwise been censored on your campus and want to fight back, contact FIRE at firstname.lastname@example.org.