Students at Bunker Hill Community College in Massachusetts can freely hand out copies of the Constitution in public areas of campus under the college’s new policy on student expression and demonstration. The new policy comes after FIRE and Alliance Defending Freedom wrote the college to contest unconstitutional policies in May of this year. After further correspondence with FIRE and ADF this month, the Massachusetts Community College System has also agreed to review policies at several other system colleges that would prevent students from handing out Constitutions on other campuses.
After members of the Bunker Hill chapter of Young Americans for Liberty were ordered to stop handing out free copies of the Constitution in an open, outdoor area of campus in early May 2017, FIRE and ADF wrote the college to demand that it cease enforcing policies violating student free speech rights. As today’s press release from ADF explains:
In response, the college acknowledged that it “should not have directed members of Young Americans for Liberty to stop distributing copies of the U.S. Constitution in an open, outdoor area on campus….” The college also agreed to ensure that “there is no blanket ban on student rights to distribute materials on campus or to engage in spontaneous speech absent pre-approval.”
FIRE and ADF attorneys worked with college and college system officials over the summer to revise Bunker Hill’s policies. In addition, we undertook a review of policies at other system colleges that would similarly prevent peaceful demonstration and distribution of literature on campus.
Last week, FIRE and ADF sent a letter to MCCS to commend Bunker Hill on the significant and meaningful changes made to its policies on student expression. We also notified MCCS of the policies we reviewed at other system colleges that unconstitutionally restrict student speech. FIRE and ADF received a prompt response that these policies would be reviewed.
“A college campus should be a marketplace of ideas where students can peacefully express their views without fear of punishment,” said ADF Legal Counsel Caleb Dalton in a statement today. “We commend Bunker Hill for adopting policy changes that protect free speech. These changes serve as a model to guide other schools, including schools within the Massachusetts Community College System.”
“Students at a public college shouldn’t have to ask for a government permission slip to exercise their most basic First Amendment freedoms,” said FIRE Director of Litigation Marieke Tuthill Beck-Coon. “That’s why we’re pleased that Bunker Hill has acted to respect the First Amendment by changing the speech policy and allowing students to hand out copies of the Constitution freely. We’re also pleased that the Massachusetts Community College System is willing to review policies at some of its other schools which, if left unchanged, could result in the same sort of problem happening on those campuses that happened at Bunker Hill.”
As always, we stand ready to assist the Massachusetts Community College System with its ongoing policy reform efforts, and will keep FIRE readers up to date on further changes in the state.