Court rules in favor of student banned from passing out ‘Jesus loves you’ valentine
- A Northwest Wisconsin Technical College student who was prevented from handing out faith-themed Valentine’s Day cards won a lawsuit against her school.
- U.S. District Court Judge William C. Griesbach issued a decision and order summary in favor of the student on Friday.
A Wisconsin student won a lawsuit after her school prevented her from handing out faith-themed cards on Valentine’s Day.
On Valentine’s Day in 2018, Polly Olsen, a student at Northwest Wisconsin Technical College (NWTC), handed out valentines that said “Jesus loves you,” “you have a purpose,” and “you are special” on campus, but administration said that she was “disruptive” due to the school’s Public Assembly Policy, which has since then been repealed and replaced.
Olsen was represented by the Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty (WILL), which wrote a press release on the case decision.
“The fact that one person anonymously complained about the message does not rob [Olsen] of her right to convey her message to others who willingly accepted it,” U.S. District Court Judge William C. Griesbach said in a Friday decision and order. “No one, including the complainer, was forced to accept Olsen’s offer of a Valentine; he or she could have simply said ‘no thank you’ or promptly placed it in a trash receptacle.”
WILL released footage of Olsen handing out valentines at her school, which the school labeled as potentially “disturbing the learning environment.”
NWTC Security Supervisor Mike Jandrin, who wrote the incident report, identified what Olsen did as “[s]uspicious activity and/or person”. After the complaint was received, Security Officer Jesse Hagel found Olsen and stopped her, telling the student that the messages on her Valentines could be perceived as offensive or to constitute solicitation.
Eventually, Olsen was unable to resolve her dispute with her school, and she filed action against the the NWTC District Board and its members.
NWTC argued that the case was governed by Anderson v. Milwaukee County, in which the court ruled that the transit system authority could prohibit passengers from distributing religious literature on county buses. The court stated that the city bus in the transit system case met the standard of a “nonpublic forum” and claimed that Olsen’s scenario fell under the same stipulation.
But the district judge disagreed.
“This case does not involve a person handing out religious books to a captive audience of commuters and sharing her faith with those sitting next to her, whether voluntarily or not, while the bus driver tries to safely navigate through traffic and make his appointed stops,” Griesbach said in the order.
“NWTC had no more right to prevent her from handing out individual Valentines than it did to stop her from wishing each individual to have a ‘good morning and a blessed day,’” he said.
“When I got the call that I had won my case, I was a little taken back,” Olsen told Campus Reform. “This has been a long battle and to be told that it’s all over was a mix of emotions. For me, this is just one step that has been won, in an ongoing fight for freedom.”
The student, who carried on a tradition begun by her now-deceased mother by handing out the Valentines, said that she would have liked to have called her mom after hearing the news, but since she cannot, she is bringing her mother’s legacy to campuses across the nation, as well as starting a podcast and nonprofit.
“Many have asked me why I only asked for a $1 as a reward [for the lawsuit],” Olsen told Campus Reform. “My answer is simple. It was all about standing up for what’s right and the freedom that I hold dear. It’s not about me, it’s about preserving the great nation I call home for generations to come!”
In March 2019, Olsen was invited to the White House for the signing of President Trump’s free speech executive order.
Follow the author of this article on Twitter: @francesanne123