GVSU sued over repeated free speech violations

A group of conservative students has teamed up with the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) to sue their school’s administration over alleged repeated First Amendment violations.

While the lawsuit rests upon an October incident in which members of the Grand Valley State University’s Turning Point USA chapter were threatened with arrest for rolling a “free speech ball” around the public school’s campus, at least one other attack on conservatives’ First Amendment rights has occurred since then.

In fact, Campus Reform recently reported that students with Turning Point USA were distributing pocket copies of the Constitution while promoting their newly-formed group when they were approached by two campus police officers, who instructed them to desist or else risk arrest.

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Nathan Berning, a Michigan field representative from the Leadership Institute who was advising the students over the phone during the altercation, told Campus Reform at the time that it was the third instance in which one of the student groups he works with was either stopped or moved to a free speech zone.

Indeed, an earlier altercation between campus administrators and student activists, who were threatened with arrest for encouraging students to partake in a free speech activity, has landed the school in a legal battle with ADF.

ADF filed suit against the Trustees of Grand Valley State University in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Michigan Wednesday, contending that the October incident was a clear violation of the students’ First and Fourteenth Amendment protections.

“Defendants knew or should have known that by limiting Plaintiffs’ speech to two small areas on campus and requiring Plaintiffs to obtain permission prior to engaging in speech with other students on campus, the university violated Plaintiffs’ constitutional rights,” the lawsuit argues, noting that “the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution guarantees Plaintiffs the right to due process of law and prohibits Defendants from promulgating and employing vague standards that allow for content or viewpoint discrimination in Defendants’ handling of Plaintiffs’ speech.”

The lawsuit also suggests that the size of the school’s free speech zone is disproportionate to the public campus at large, explaining that “the two speech zones combined equal less than a third of an acre which comprises approximately 2/100th of a percent of the GVSU campus.”

As legal relief, ADF has asked for a “permanent injunction prohibiting Defendants, their agents, officials, servants, employees, and any other persons acting on their behalf from enforcing the Speech Zone Policy,” with additional “compensatory and nominal damages for the violation of Plaintiffs’ First and Fourteenth Amendment rights from the Defendants sued in their individual capacities.”

Commenting on the school’s marginally small free speech zones, ADF Senior Counsel Tyson Langhofer explained that “public universities, which are supposed to be the ultimate marketplace of ideas, shouldn’t be stifling students on more than 99.97 percent of campus.”

“The Turning Point USA students have a constitutionally protected freedom to peacefully share their viewpoints with other students, and those students have the freedom to share their viewpoints as well, whether verbally or in writing on a beach ball,” he added in a press release Thursday. “The university can’t play ‘keep away’ with the First Amendment.”

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