VICTORY: Student stopped by campus police for holding up a sign settles First Amendment lawsuit with Mississippi college

November 19, 2020
  • Jones College revises speech code requiring students to get administrative permission before “gathering for any purpose” anywhere on campus
  • College adopts “Chicago Statement” language as part of new policy on student expression

ELLISVILLE, Miss., Nov. 19, 2020 — Mississippi’s Jones College on Wednesday finalized a settlement with former student Michael Brown, who sued the college after administrators and campus police infringed on his First Amendment rights. Brown’s suit, filed with the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, brings policy changes that will protect the speech rights of all Jones College students. 

“I am pleased that Jones College was willing to work in good faith to align their policies with the First Amendment rights guaranteed to all of us, especially students on their campus,” said Brown. “Fighting for this reform is important to me because we all must have the ability to speak freely, otherwise how are we any better than other nations and regimes that restrict what their citizens may say?”

Brown was stopped from exercising his free speech rights on campus twice in early 2019 when he tried to recruit fellow students for a campus chapter of Young Americans for Liberty. In February 2019, administrators called campus police to stop Brown from rolling around a “free speech ball,” telling him he needed the college’s permission before engaging in expressive activity. Two months later, campus police stopped Brown from holding up a sign polling fellow students on marijuana legalization without permission. The campus police chief hauled him into his office and told him he should’ve been “smarter” than to exercise his First Amendment rights without the college’s permission. 

Represented by FIRE, Brown sued Jones College in September 2019, challenging the college’s overly-restrictive speech codes, which required administrative approval and a minimum three-day waiting period before “gathering for any purpose” anywhere on campus. 

As part of Wednesday’s settlement, Jones College agreed to implement a policy allowing students to express themselves without permission. The policy also adopts language from the “Report of the Committee on Freedom of Expression” at the University of Chicago (better known as the “Chicago Statement”). Jones College will join 77 other institutions nationwide in adopting this principled statement on free expression. The college also agreed to pay $40,000 for attorneys’ fees and damages.

“We’re proud of Mike for standing up for his rights and the speech rights of all students at Jones College,” said FIRE Director of Litigation Marieke Tuthill Beck-Coon. “At a time when students at 9 in 10 colleges across the country forfeit their rights under unconstitutional speech codes, we commend Jones College for joining the ranks of Chicago Statement institutions committed to providing students ‘the broadest possible latitude to speak.’”

With its new policy in place, Jones College will join a positive statewide trend for free speech on campus in Mississippi. In 2019 alone, four universities in Mississippi scrapped their unconstitutional speech policies to be among the 56 institutions nationwide earning FIRE’s highest, “green light” rating. Today, Mississippi is second to only North Carolina for states with the most green light colleges.

The lawsuit was filed in partnership with Cody W. Gibson of Gibson & Mullennix, PLLC in Jackson, Mississippi, who was co-counsel with FIRE in the case. 

“I am grateful that we were able to help Mr. Brown in his case, and in particular his pursuit to stand up for students and their First Amendment rights,” said Gibson.

The suit was part of FIRE’s Million Voices Campaign, which aims to free the voices of one million students by striking down unconstitutional speech codes nationwide. To date, these efforts have successfully helped over 400,000 students.

“I still would recommend Jones College to anyone looking for a positive and interactive educational experience, but now especially since we may speak freely without fear on campus,” Brown said.

If you are a student who was censored on campus, FIRE and its Legal Network partners stand ready to protect your First Amendment rights in court. Students interested in submitting their case to FIRE’s Million Voices Campaign may do so through FIRE’s case submission form.

The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization dedicated to defending and sustaining the individual rights of students and faculty members at America’s colleges and universities. These rights include freedom of speech, freedom of association, due process, legal equality, religious liberty, and sanctity of conscience — the essential qualities of liberty.

CONTACT:

Daniel Burnett, Director of Communications, FIRE: 215-717-3473; media@thefire.org


Cases:  Jones County Junior College — Stand Up For Speech Lawsuit