By Patrick Crank at Brenham Banner- Press
A Blinn College student in conjunction with the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) filed a First Amendment lawsuit against the college Wednesday.
Nicole Sanders is suing Blinn after being told by a college administrator in February that she needed “special permission” to display a sign advocating gun rights as well as collect signatures to join a student group known as the Young Americans for Liberty on campus.
The lawsuit is aimed at challenging Blinn’s restriction of free speech to a designated area as well as an alleged lengthy approval process by administrators for a card Sanders wanted to pass out on campus explaining Fourth and Fifth Amendment rights.
“When I started college I wanted to get students excited about politics and give them a clear understanding of their rights granted to them under the Constitution,” said Sanders. “Under the speech codes at Blinn College, I soon learned it was going to be very challenging to engage with students about my views.
“This lawsuit will grant all Blinn students the opportunity to express ideas, opinions and views different from the status quo without fear of punishment.”
Blinn officials have not commented on the lawsuit.
“Blinn College administrators sacrificed the First Amendment in order to stop Nicole from talking about the Second, Fourth, and Fifth Amendments,” Catherine Sevcenko, FIRE associate director of litigation said in a press release.
“But public 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.”
According to a FIRE press release, Blinn’s policies require that student organizations request permission a month in advance to gain approval from administrators for any on or off-campus expressive activity.
Students must also provide administrators with an “activity report form” describing what happened at the activity, including details about the activity’s content and any student discussions that took place.
Students who wish to engage in expressive activity without prior approval from administrators must do so in a designated “free speech area.”
“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,” said Sevcenko in the release. “This case is yet another example of college administrators trying to quarantine the First Amendment.”
The lawsuit also alleges that Doug Peck, professor of ceramics, drawing and art appreciation at Blinn, threatened Sanders in wake of her demonstration.
According to FIRE’s press release, Peck allegedly told Sanders to “think really hard” before “bringing some organization to campus” that would “cause havoc” for the college.
The alleged threat classifies as a First Amendment retaliation claim since Peck is a government employee, according to FIRE.
“We support Nicole and her effort to see that this free speech zone and the other restrictive policies are reformed,” Sevcenko said.