Oregon Community College For Allegedly Restricting Pro-Life Free Speech On Campus

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Last week, the Christian legal defense firm Alliance Defending Freedom filed a lawsuit in Salem, Oregon against Chemeketa Community College on behalf of a pro-life student group. The lawsuit was filed over the school’s policy that limits free speech to less than 2% of the 100-acre campus and also requires students to obtain permission at least two weeks in advance of speaking in the school’s designated “Free Speech Zones.”

“The only permission slip students need in order to speak on public college campuses is the First Amendment,” said ADF Legal Counsel Michael Ross, one of the attorneys representing students Marcos Sanchez and Emma Howell, according to a blog post by ADF. Ross added, “Students don’t give up their constitutionally protected freedoms when they step on to campus or hold a specific viewpoint. Our clients have the right to peacefully engage and persuade their peers. They also have the freedom to support pregnant and parenting students without censorship or harassment from their school.”

Full-time students Sanchez and Howell lead the CCC chapter of Students for Life of America as president and co-president. Students for Life of America is a pro-life student organization with over 1,200 chapters at high schools and colleges nationwide.

The lawsuit asserts that the school’s policies — particularly the requirement for students to seek advance permission — inhibit the student’s ability to mobilize quickly in response to news developments relevant to Student for Life’s advocacy work.

According to the ADF blog post:

The policies have prevented the students from engaging in spontaneous expression and from promoting their events. For example, on Feb. 26, members of Students for Life hosted a debate on campus about the morality of physician-assisted suicide. While the students applied for, and received, approval from the college to host the event indoors on campus, they wished to promote the event outdoors between classes by handing out flyers and describing the services of local pregnancy resource centers. The students refrained from doing so, however, to avoid violating the college’s policies restricting speech.

ADF argues that all public schools should allow freedom of expression and that CCC’s policies don’t fall in line with constitutional protections of free speech.

“Today’s college students are our future legislators, judges, and voters. That’s why it’s so important that public universities model the First Amendment values they’re supposed to be teaching students,” said ADF Senior Counsel Tyson Langhofer, director of the ADF Center for Academic Freedom. “Pro-life students—like their peers—have the freedom to share messages of hope and healing without first asking college administrators for permission to speak.”

Students for Life of America President Kristan Hawkins said that across the US, the organization is “seeing incredible opposition to the pro-life speech of our student leaders and volunteers as they speak for the defenseless and educate their fellow students on abortion.”

Hawkins also noted, “But the law and the Constitution are clear on the matter: Public schools cannot silence pro-life groups or force them to self-censor.”

“If Chemeketa Community College wants to respect every member of its community, it will clarify that Students for Life can participate in the open exchange of ideas and ensure that the entire college community becomes a ‘free speech zone’ for pro-life students and their peers,” Hawkins concluded.

The censoring of Christian and conservative viewpoints in America is becoming more and more prevalent and accepted, however, that certainly does not give CCC, or any public school, the right to require student groups to seek permission to speak on issues for which they advocate. CCC is a publicly funded school and is, therefore, bound by the restraints of the constitution for the protection of free speech for students.

With having won nearly 80% of all cases since their founding in 1994, it looks like these pro-life student advocates are in good hands with the Alliance Defending Freedom.

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