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Settlement forces college that jailed student for passing out Constitutions to ditch policies

Judge compared its policies to ‘1984’

Kellogg Community College in Michigan jailed a student for passing out pocket copies of the Constitution on campus.

An administrator said that students from “rural farm areas … might not feel like they have the choice to ignore” the supposed solicitation by the nascent Young Americans for Liberty chapter.

A year after chapter leaders sued the public institution for violating their First Amendment rights – during which the school refused to change its policies and drew the public ire of Attorney General Jeff Sessions – Kellogg has finally capitulated.

In a settlement made public Wednesday, Kellogg agreed to ditch the policies under which it arrested and jailed YAL leader Michelle Gregoire and threatened to arrest fellow leader Brandon Withers.

It also pledged to grant a 12-month “provisional recognition” to the chapter and pay Gregoire $7,000 in damages and $48,000 to her lawyers at the Alliance Defending Freedom.

The alliance wasn’t happy with what it called “insufficient” changes Kellogg made after a federal judge indicated he thought its policies were unconstitutional.

MOREStudent jailed for passing out Constitutions to ‘rural farm’ students

U.S. District Judge Robert Jonker blew threw the college’s meager defense at the Aug. 10 hearing, comparing its policies to “the Orwellian 1984”:

Well, tell me — unless you can tell me there’s something that compels me to — you know, like a controlling authority, don’t talk too much about other cases right now. How do you defend that? I mean, do you really want to be in the paper saying “Yeah, we arrest people who pass out Constitutions on our campus without our prior permission”? I mean, that’s your optics. That’s a terrible optical position for you to be in, isn’t it? …

They were passing out Constitutions without your prior permission and they got arrested for it.

In an exhibit to the settlement, the version of the policy was changed from this:

[Kellogg] shall not consider or regulate the content of speech or viewpoint of speakers in the application of this policy.

To this:

[Kellogg] shall not consider or regulate the content or viewpoint of expressive activities when enforcing this policy, including by restricting students’ expression based on concerns about other person(s)’ negative reaction to that expression.

The new policy will also limit Kellogg’s intervention in students’ expression to situations that “substantially and materially” disrupt “the learning environment” or threaten campus safety.

A new section reads:

For purposes of this policy, the peaceful distribution of informational materials in the indoor and outdoor common areas does not, without more, represent a substantial or material disruption to the learning environment at the College.

According to the alliance, the amended policy is ditching a requirement that students must get prior permission to engage in “expressive activity” on campus. It’s also excising a ban on speech that does not “support” the mission of the college or any college entity.

“It’s a shame that it took this much time and a federal court’s rebuke for Kellogg Community College to come to its senses, realize that these arrests were wrong, and finally agree to respect students’ constitutionally protected freedoms,” alliance lawyer Travis Barham said in the alliance statement.

Read the settlement and alliance statement.

MORE: Kellogg drops charges against students but it’s still chilling speech

MORE: Jeff Sessions denounces Kellogg for jailing Gregoire

IMAGE: Monkey Business Images/Shutterstock

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About the Author
Associate Editor
Greg spent several years as a technology policy reporter and editor for Warren Communications News in Washington, D.C., and guest host on C-SPAN’s “The Communicators.” Previously he led media and public relations at Seattle’s Discovery Institute, a free-market think tank. Greg is developing a Web series about a college newspaper, COPY, whose pilot episode was a semifinalist in the TV category for the Scriptapalooza competition in 2012. He graduated in 2001 with a B.A. from Seattle Pacific University, where he co-founded the alternative newspaper PUNCH and served as a reporter, editor and columnist for The Falcon.

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