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Activists Sue Illinois Community College for Viewpoint-Based Speech Restrictions

Yesterday, the Rutherford Institute filed suit in federal court on behalf of Wayne Lela and John McCartney, two visitors to Waubonsee Community College (WCC) in Illinois who were stopped from distributing flyers because the college disapproved of their message.

Per the Rutherford Institute’s press release, Lela and McCartney are members of the organization Heterosexuals Organized for a Moral Environment and wished to distribute materials addressing the group’s views on homosexuality, religious liberty, and free speech rights, among other topics—within WCC’s “free speech area.” As relayed in the complaint (PDF), Lela contacted WCC staff to discuss his plans, but a WCC administrator wrote to Lela saying he could not distribute the flyers on campus because they would be “disruptive of the college’s educational mission.”

WCC’s policy limiting uses of campus facilities to those that are “consistent with the philosophy, goals and mission of the college,” the complaint argues, amounts to impermissible viewpoint discrimination by WCC, a public institution bound by the First Amendment. The college’s “Use of College Facilities and Services” policy allows members of the public to use the campus for expression generally, with an exception for solicitation. As the complaint explains, though, Lela and McCartney were not seeking to solicit money but rather to distribute information.

According to the complaint, a letter from attorney Paulette A. Petretti sent on behalf of WCC “makes explicit … that Plaintiffs’ critical views of homosexuality are not allowed but that speech with a positive view of homosexuality is permitted.” Additionally, the suit argues, the vague language of WCC’s policy grants administrators “unbridled discretion that may be exercised in an inconsistent or discriminatory manner.” The plaintiffs are seeking to enjoin WCC from enforcing its unconstitutional policy and monetary damages.

FIRE is pleased to see plaintiffs across the country standing up for their rights with the help of the Rutherford Institute, Alliance Defending Freedom (check out this recent FIRE press release for some of ADF’s latest work), and other organizations working hard to defend the right to speak freely on college campuses. Through court cases like theirs, as well as those of the plaintiffs participating in our Stand Up For Speech Litigation Project, freedom of speech will be bolstered for students, faculty, and members of the public nationwide. We wish colleges and universities would do the right thing without the threat of a lawsuit, but since they have been so stubborn when it comes to their commitment to unconstitutional speech codes, we are thankful that there are additional groups and individuals out there that are willing to take them to court.

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