According to the Pew Research Center, 30% of American adults own a gun. By my back-of-the-envelope calculations, that’s about 75 million people. With numbers like that, it’s not going to be unusual for there to be pictures of people out there on social media holding and/or using those guns.
Unfortunately, such a photo appears to have been considered a little too unusual by First Coast Technical College in Florida. Student Dia’mon Dallas has filed a First Amendment lawsuit against FCTC in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida, alleging that she was indefinitely suspended from the college after administrators discovered a Facebook post featuring a photo of her and her fiancé, Anfernee Royster, posing with guns at a Florida shooting range.
In her complaint, Dallas reports that assistant principal Donna Gary-Donovan approached her on campus as follows: “Gary-Donovan accused Dallas of having a ‘mean look’ on her face, possessing ‘illegal guns’ and stated that, ‘Things you do in the dark come into the light.’ … After advising Dallas that she was indefinitely suspended, Gary-Donovan along with a law enforcement officer escorted Dallas off the FCTC campus in the full and plain view of other students.”
If the allegations in the lawsuit are true, this wouldn’t be the first time that FIRE has seen a violation of a student’s expressive rights based on an overreaction to a photo of a student holding a gun.Last fall, Long Island University Post summoned student Anand Venigalla to a mandatory meeting after it became aware of Facebook photos of him legally holding guns at an off-campus event hosted by the Cabela’s sporting goods chain. At the mandatory meeting, administrators even went so far as to dredge up an essay he wrote for a class on war, terrorism, and justice in which he opined that political violence against authorities, but not civilians, can be justified in certain situations, citing the Boston Tea Party as an example. The college ultimately did not pursue discipline against Venigalla, but its message was clear: photos with firearms put your education at risk.
Dallas’ position appears to be significantly worse than Venigalla’s, though. According to The Blaze:
Dallas told [Jacksonville TV station] WJAX an administrator wouldn’t even allow her [to] go into a classroom to get a crock pot she brought for a party — and that the administrator said she didn’t know what Dallas would do to other students.
“I can’t get a job, and I have a baby I have to support,” Dallas told the station. “I’ve been out of work long enough, and I wanted to do this to be able to provide for my family. And now I can’t.”
Fortunately for Dallas, her plight attracted the attention of Florida State Representative Cord Byrd, who is acting as her attorney in the federal lawsuit. But in the meantime, it appears that Dallas remains unable to attend college, finish her degree, and support her family simply because she posted a photo of herself with a gun on Facebook — an act of expression that is entirely protected by the First Amendment.
The case should serve as a stark reminder of what can happen to a student’s life and livelihood when her college decides to disregard her First Amendment rights.