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Community college willingly violates law and risks lawsuit in foolish attempt to censor constitutionally protected speech.

Posted by iusbvision on June 2, 2009

A community college in Pennsylvania is facing a lawsuit that they have no possibility of winning in a hapless attempt to censor student speech. Examine this press release from FIRE.
Foundation for Individual Rights in Education:

Pittsburgh-Area College Fails to Remedy Violations of Concealed Carry Advocate’s Free Speech

June 2, 2009

FIRE Press Release

PITTSBURGH, June 2, 2009A student who wants to form a gun-rights group will still be subject to unconstitutional censorship, the Community College of Allegheny County (CCAC) announced yesterday. Christine Brashier, who wants to form a chapter of Students for Concealed Carry on Campus (SCCC), was told through a letter to the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) yesterday that she will not be punished for her efforts to organize the group, as college officials had threatened in an earlier meeting, but only if she follows CCAC’s unconstitutional policies. She must have all of her pamphlets approved before distribution and will not be allowed to use the name of CCAC in any way during her effort to start a group at the college.

“CCAC’s response was a transparent attempt to defend the indefensible,” said FIRE President Greg Lukianoff. “The college’s justifications for its censorship of Christine Brashier are not only unconstitutional, they are absurd.”

In April, Brashier created pamphlets to distribute to her classmates encouraging them to join her in forming a chapter of the SCCC national organization at CCAC. Her pamphlets stated that the group “supports the legalization of concealed carry by licensed individuals on college campuses.” She personally distributed copies of the pamphlets, which identified her as a “Campus Leader” of the effort to start the chapter.

Brashier was quickly summoned to a meeting with administrators, who told her that passing out her non-commercial pamphlets was prohibited as “solicitation.” Furthermore, they insisted that the college pre-approve any pamphlets, that pamphlets like hers would not be approved, and that Brashier destroy all copies of her pamphlet. At one point during the meeting, Dean Yvonne Burns reportedly said, “You may want to discuss this topic but the college does not, and you cannot make us.” Brashier was warned that any further efforts would be considered “academic misconduct.”

FIRE wrote CCAC President Alex Johnson on April 29 about these violations of Brashier’s First Amendment speech and association rights, pointing out that her free speech in no way constituted solicitation, that CCAC may not condition approval of literature on its viewpoint or content, and that if CCAC recognizes student organizations at all, it must recognize an organization that supports concealed carry on campus.

FIRE took Brashier’s case public last week, generating widespread news coverage. As a result, Allegheny County Solicitor Mike Adams finally replied to FIRE Monday on CCAC’s behalf. Rather than affirming Brashier’s expressive rights, however, Adams tried to justify CCAC’s unconstitutional actions after the fact. While Adams assured FIRE that Brashier did not face any disciplinary action and that she did have the right to try to form a SCCC groupreversing the message Brashier received from Dean Burnshe ignored most of the alarming statements by the CCAC administrators and attempted to defend CCAC’s unconstitutional censorship.

Most outrageously, Adams sought to defend CCAC’s policy of demanding prior review and prior restraint of handbills and pamphlets. Adams attempted to justify this unconstitutional policy by arguing that Brashier’s use of the CCAC name and her self-identification as the “Campus Leader” of the effort to organize the gun-rights group might lead a reasonable person to erroneously assume that the group and its message were endorsed by CCAC.

“The Supreme Court has determined that prior restraint is rarely justified, even for national security reasons,” said FIRE Vice President Robert Shibley. “For Allegheny County to argue in favor of a government veto over privately-produced handbills makes a mockery of the First Amendment. Under this reasoning, Thomas Paine should have sought the British government’s permission to distribute his pamphlet Common Sense.”

[FIRE is right on the legal grounds. A famous legal test case of the law is New York Times v. United States. The NYT moved to publish leaked classified documents and the Supreme Court ruled that the government could not use “prior restraint” to keep the NYT from publishing them. This case is famous and is studied in almost every university in the country. How can CCAC hope to have a chance to get away with this? How could they be so outrageously foolish? – Editor]

Also troubling is CCAC’s argument that simply using the name of CCAC in a handbill promoting the formation of a group on that campus implied CCAC’s endorsement of the group and its message. “CCAC has officially recognized chapters of the College Democrats and the Newman Club. Does that mean CCAC officially endorses Democratic politics and Catholicism? Obviously not. Such a conclusion is patently unreasonableas is CCAC’s weak attempt to spin away the violation of a student’s First Amendment rights,” Shibley said.

“CCAC students, as well as every citizen of Allegheny County, should feel very disappointed by the county’s apparent disregard of fundamental rights. FIRE will continue to pursue this matter until the First Amendment is restored to CCAC’s campus,” Lukianoff said.

FIRE is a nonprofit educational foundation that unites civil rights and civil liberties leaders, scholars, journalists, and public intellectuals from across the political and ideological spectrum on behalf of individual rights, due process, freedom of expression, academic freedom, and rights of conscience at our nation’s colleges and universities. FIRE’s efforts to preserve liberty on campuses across America are described at thefire.org.

3 Responses to “Community college willingly violates law and risks lawsuit in foolish attempt to censor constitutionally protected speech.”

  1. Angelo said

    It appears the suppression of free speech is also being advocated by the president as he calls for people to stop vilifying abortion. Apparently there has been a lot of press coverage of the fact that someone shot a person who performed abortions but there is little, if any, media coverage of corruption in abortion (practices such as lowering contraceptive dose to stimulate pregnancy and increase abortion rate).

  2. Lawsuit Loans said

    “practices such as lowering contraceptive dose to stimulate pregnancy and increase abortion rate”

    This is about the stupidest comment I’ve heard in a long time; so now the drug companies are in on the so called abortion corruption? So sad people can only find lies and crap to back up their beliefs.

    [You could just ask Angelo to provide some evidence of his position instead of calling him a liar based on nothing you presented. But lets try and keep this on topic ok? – Editor]

  3. Angelo said

    My point is that free speech is a valuable tool for achieving equilibrium of data. If the ability to assess a matter fairly is not being adequately achieved due to a ceratin media bias, and the president is stating that vilification of the matter, rather than vilification in general, is undesirable in a society that values free speech; then the president, in my opinion, is inevitably advocating a bias view. For, as it were, vilification is a tool that is often used by both sides of an issue yet appears to be authorized and endorsed by the president only when used in conjuction with his own views or ideology.

    As for the data on the adjustment of oral contraceptive doses to stimulate pregnancy and increase abortion rate– that was something I heard on a Christian radio talk show. A person was testifying of some of the corruption they had witnessed. I wouldn’t know how I might have learned of it otherwise as those kinds of facts aren’t so readily available.

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