By James Beattie at Western Journalism
A Texas college student filed a First Amendment lawsuit against her school last week after she was told she would need “special permission” to collect signatures for a new student organization and display her conservative-leaning signs.
Fox News reported that the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) is aiding student Nicole Sanders in a lawsuit against Blinn College, a community college located about 75 miles west of Houston in Brenham, Texas.
Sanders’ lawsuit challenges Blinn’s policy of restricting expression to a “Free Speech Area” (seen below) unless one obtains a permit, which entails going through a lengthy process, according to the lawsuit.
The Blinn student wanted to distribute a small card to students explaining constitutional rights, as she was trying to start a Young Americans for Liberty (YAF) chapter on campus.
The 24-year-old student was also prohibited from displaying the two signs below–except in the pre-designated area. One reads “Defend Gun Rights On Campus,” and another reads “LOL,” with the ‘O’ as the Obama campaign logo.
From Fox News:
Sanders claims a college official accompanied by three armed campus police officers approached and said someone had complained that their display was offensive and that they wouldn’t be allowed to do it again unless they got ‘special permission.’
According to Sanders, the official added that it was unlikely such permission would be granted to advocate for gun rights.
“When you have to get a permit before you can speak, it shuts down ideas – everything gets censored through the administrators,” Sanders told Fox News.
“[P]ublic colleges like Blinn are bound by the First Amendment, which gives all citizens—including college students—the right to speak out on the issues they are passionate about, whether gun rights or gay rights,” FIRE associate director of litigation Catherine Sevcenko said in a statement.
“Blinn College thinks it’s acceptable to have a free speech zone that is the size of a parking spot. But the Constitution’s free speech zone is the size of the United States,” added Sevcenko. “This case is yet another example of college administrators trying to quarantine the First Amendment.”
The suit also asserts her ceramics professor, David Peck, tried to intimidate her into not suing the school.
Blinn spokesman Jeff Tilley told Fox News that the school is taking a look at its policies. “We certainly will take this opportunity to evaluate our policies as they are written and as they are applied by faculty and staff,” Tilley said.
We will evaluate whether any misunderstandings may have occurred. Because of our commitment to our students and to the law, we are confident that we will be able to resolve any concerns that have been raised.