By William R. Toler
A community college student in Ohio was banned from distributing literature that was deemed “offensive” by another student.
According to the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, Ethel Borel-Donohue passed out flyers to her paralegal classmates on the “possible risks of Breast Cancer related to brith control and abortion” during Breast Cancer Awareness month…after class.
The department chair, Judge Michael Brigner, “summoned” Borel-Donohue to his office to discuss the matter. According to her account, the judge told her a fellow student had complained and that she “had no right to hand out any materials to students in the classroom.”
And this guy’s a judge?
FIRE sent a letter to the president of Sinclair Community College informing him that “while SCC instructors may limit the expression of students during class time…, such narrowly tailored restrictions for educational purposes cannot lawfully be extended to restrict all distribution of literature outside class time.”
“The right to distribute literature about controversial topics is one of Americans’ most hallowed rights,” said FIRE President Greg Lukianoff. “Thankfully, the Constitution does not recognize a ‘right not to be offended.'”
A month later, FIRE received a response from the college’s counsel (and Ohio Asst. District Attourney) Lauren Ross defending the colleges actions by citing a policy that bans all distribution of literature in “working areas.” The college also has a policy banning distribution of materials on college owned or controlled property, unless it is from “recognized student organizations after registering with the appropriate college official.”
FIRE fired back saying that since the distribution took place after class, it caused no disruption, thereby negating the college’s argument. FIRE also urged the college to bring its policies in compliance with the First Amendment.
In a story from the Associated Press, Ross said the college “plans no further action and would not be revising its policy ‘with regard to this particular issue.'”
I bring this issue to your attention because Craven Community College has a similar policy. The student code of conduct, in part, states that “Solicitation, distribution, selling, posting or promotion of materials and/or goods on College owned or controlled property without prior approval as addressed in the Access to Campus policy” is prohibited conduct and subject to disciplinary action.
That is only one of CCC’s violations of the First Amendment. Others will be discussed later. But it is a disturbing trend among community colleges that seek to prohibit free speech and expression.
“Since the time of Thomas Paine, it has been inconsistent with basic American conceptions of liberty for the government to enact wholesale restrictions on pamphleteers,” said Adam Kissel, FIRE’s V.P. of Programs. “Sinclair Community College’s [ed. as well as CCC] attempt to prevent…all…students from peacefully expressing their views teaches students exactly the wrong lesson about individual liberty.”
Adam, I couldn’t agree more.