In a lawsuit filed in federal court on Wednesday, students at Kellogg Community College, a small public college located in Battle Creek, Mich., claim their constitutional rights were violated when they were arrested and forced to spend a night in county jail for refusing to stop handing out pocket Constitutions on school grounds in September 2016.
According to the complaint, filed on the students' behalf by the Alliance Defending Freedom, Michelle Gregoire, Brandon Withers, and three other students "tried to distribute pocket-size copies of the United States Constitution in an open, generally accessible area of the campus outside the Binda Performing Arts Center," but they were told to stop their efforts because "they had not first obtained a permit and because expression was only permitted in one location."
Gregoire and Withers, both members of Young Americans for Liberty, a national student organization promoting constitutional conservatism, then made the mistake of engaging "interested students in conversation about liberty on campus," which led to KCC officials demanding they stop because they were "impeding students' access to education." Gregoire and Withers "politely informed KCC officials that they planned to continue to exercise their First Amendment rights." Withers and two others were subsequently placed in handcuffs, forced to spend the night in county jail, and charged with trespassing.
The charges were soon dropped, but KCC's message was clear: Free speech is not welcome on campus, especially if you're conservative.
"Campus security literally showed up to the YAL chapter's national Fight for Free Speech campaign event and arrested students for peaceably handing out pocket Constitutions," said Cliff Maloney Jr., president of Young Americans for Liberty, in a statement. "Remember, this is a public, American tax-payer funded community college. A place that is supposed to not only uphold the Bill of Rights, but set an example for its students. Yet, the administration's actions are a direct violation of the First Amendment. Who knew the Constitution was so controversial? Time in the slammer for handing out pocket constitutions? This is insane."
Insane, indeed, but what else should we expect in higher education when conservative speakers are being banned, boycotted, or silenced on college campuses for expressing pro-liberty views and when "safe spaces" and "trigger words" are encouraging college administrations to limit free speech to specific areas. Is speech really "free" if people are only allowed to say what they want in areas chosen by those in power and only at appointed times?
The KCC administration is clearly no friend to liberty, but it's obviously not a friend of diversity, either, unless you, as so many college administrations do, define "diversity" as only those views that fall under the Left's umbrella of appropriate ideas. Sure, if you're a member of Black Lives Matter or handing out communist manifestos, no problem! You're welcome to spew all the nonsense you want. But don't you dare try to hand out copies of the Constitution, the law of the land. Doing so apparently prevents students from gaining an "access to education."
Call me crazy, but I think students need all the "access" to the Constitution they can get, especially on a college campus that's willing to throw people in jail for talking about freedom. This is a funhouse-mirror distortion of what our country used to be. We should all support student-heroes like the YAL members at Kellogg Community College who were willing to stand up to oppressive powers and defiantly say, "No, we have rights, too, and we're not going to let you take them away from us."
Justin Haskins is a contributor to the Washington Examiner's Beltway Confidential blog. He is an executive editor at The Heartland Institute. Thinking of submitting an op-ed to the Washington Examiner? Be sure to read our guidelines on submissions.