FIRE has written to Sinclair Community College after learning of the disturbing and unconstitutional censorship of signs at a June 8 "Stand Up for Religious Freedom" rally held on the Dayton, OH, campus and hosted by SCC’s Traditional Values Club (TVC).
As photo and video evidence shows, police ordered the participants at the June 8 rally to put away their signs, some of which were homemade, many of which were distributed by the national organizers (more than 160 such rallies—in protest of new health coverage mandates from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services—were held nationwide).
In this video recorded by one of the attendees, you can clearly hear a police officer say, among other things, that "no signage whatsoever" was allowed at the event:
For reasons explained in our letter, sent on June 15, this censorship on a public college campus is blatantly unconstitutional. Making matters worse, according to this March 2012 article in the SCC campus newspaper, The Clarion, since 1990, SCC’s police have been interpreting the college’s Campus Access Policy (which makes no specific mention of signs) as giving them the ability to prohibit all signs at all events on the SCC campus. This far, far exceeds the authority SCC has to regulate campus expression. As The Clarion pointed out, this unwritten "no-sign" policy seems to have been used to violate the First Amendment rights of two students who silently protested a TVC event in February and were forced by police to put away their homemade signs. At a public college bound by the First Amendment, this simply cannot stand.
This is not the first time FIRE has intervened at SCC: In 2011, FIRE became involved after the college prohibited student Ethel Borel-Donohue (who now serves as TVC’s president at SCC) from distributing pamphlets in a classroom after class had ended. This also isn’t the first time we’ve encountered an improper use of the Campus Access Policy, which was cited in justifying the school’s prohibition on her expressive activity.
How many others at SCC have had their First Amendment rights violated like TVC and those at the Stand Up for Religious Freedom rally? FIRE will have more on this troubling case as it develops.