LAWSUIT: Public college threatened to arrest conservatives exercising First Amendment rights

The school has twice targeted a student rolling a "free speech ball" and attempting to have a conversation with students about marijuana legalization on campus.

Jones County Junior College is finding itself on the receiving end of a free speech lawsuit.

A free speech nonprofit organization is suing a Mississippi community college after campus police stopped students from tabling on campus and even took them into a police station.

The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) is suing Jones County Junior College because of a policy that requires groups to fill out paperwork before “gathering for any purpose” on campus, according to a news release.

The policy became an issue when Jones County Junior College student Mike Brown and other Young Americans for Liberty (YAL) activists polled students on campus in April to see if they support the legalization of recreational marijuana. However, according to FIRE, the YAL members were quickly stopped by campus police, all because paperwork was not filled out before the event.

[RELATED: DOJ slams U. of Iowa in Christian student group’s lawsuit]

The campus police even took Brown into the station, according to the lawsuit. 

When Brown asked the campus police officer what policy they violated, she replied: “That’s illegal, first of all, and you’re on a school campus.”

According to the lawsuit, Stan Livingston, chief of campus police, told Brown that he was “smarter than that [violating the policy].”

“Some people get in trouble for smoking weed, but at Jones College, I got in trouble just for trying to talk about it,” Brown said, according to FIRE. “College is for cultivating thought and learning and encouraging civil discourse with your peers. That’s not what’s happening at Jones College.”

This was not the first time Brown had been reprimanded over his alleged violations of the campus speech policies. 

In February, according to FIRE, Brown and YAL staffer Mitch Strider tried to bring on campus a “free speech ball” onto which students can write anything they want while talking with coordinators about free speech.

The community college told them that they could not be on campus without prior administrative approval. JCJC also told individuals with whom Brown was tabling to leave campus, threatening arrest.

Strider, who was with Brown at the free speech ball event, spoke with Campus Reform about the situation at the school.

“I believe JCJC’s speech policy is unconstitutional because as a public institution of higher learning, JCJC is obligated to uphold civil liberties protected by the Bill of Rights,” Strider said. “This has long been precedent in case law.”

[RELATED: Chicago State shells out mega money to silence free speech lawsuit]

When the administration at the college asked the two to leave campus while hosting the free speech ball event, Strider said he was “disappointed but not surprised.”

“The administration has long promoted a ‘nanny state’ type atmosphere on campus, which is comical [given] that many of the students that attend community colleges are older and more mature than the students at universities where you are granted far more freedom in most every regard,” Strider said.

But the college presented a different point of view in a statement it sent to Campus Reform.

”These policies have been in place not to limit student’s right to free speech or assembly but to ensure that all students have equal and safe
access to an environment free from hate speech; racial, gender, national origin, religious affiliation; and disability discrimination,” JCJC said.

The school claimed it had a “history of doing the right thing,” citing a 1955 instance in which it sent a football team to California to compete against an integrated football team while facing opposition on a variety of fronts.

”Our mission is to teach the ideals of a democratic society, which by definition teaches the basis of free speech,” the college continued in the statement sent to Campus Reform. “This is a fundamental and constitutional right of our representative democracy that so many paid the ultimate price to ensure the freedoms we enjoy. We stand behind our actions, our policies, and our employees. We look forward to ensuring that these ideals are protected as we stay true to our mission. The college [attorneys] will respond accordingly upon official notice.”

Follow the author of this article on Twitter: @asabes10