Student Challenges Des Moines Area Community College Speech Code

April 19, 2013

On Monday, Des Moines Area Community College student Jacob Dagel filed a lawsuit challenging the school’s strict limitations on where students may distribute flyers. In addition to restricting leaflets to a “speech zone” consisting of a hallway with tables, the complaint alleges that the school requires students to “obtain a permit to use the speech zone 10 businessdays in advance of the expected activity, but the College retains unfettered discretion to determine whether student speech may occur at all.” The suit was filed with assistance from the Alliance Defending Freedom.

The Des Moines Register reports that on March 28, a campus security official prevented Dagel from handing out flyers protesting school subsidies to the Iowa Governor’s Conference on LGBTQ Youth. Enforcement of the school’s policy is particularly deplorable in this case because political speech like Dagel’s is at the core of what the First Amendment is meant to protect.

ADF Senior Counsel Kevin Theriot emphasizes what is at stake:

Free, spontaneous discourse on college campuses is supposed to be a hallmark of higher education rather than the exception to the rule. … A permission slip should not be needed every time students wish to express their views on current events of the day. We hope that Des Moines Area Community College will revise its policy so that its students can exercise their constitutionally protected freedoms.

Ken Paulson, president of the First Amendment Center, remarked on the case and on speech zones generally:

Public educational institutions that create “free speech zones” overlook the fact that America is a free speech zone and that designating a specific space for free expression is, in fact, an act of censorship.

FIRE will watch the case as it unfolds. We hope that DMACC will revise its policies, and we would be happy to help it do so.