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Public college punishes student group for passing out Constitutions, refuses to recognize it

Bunker Hill Community College looks like it is stalling on recognizing a Young Americans for Liberty chapter so that it can suppress the free expression of its student members.

The Massachusetts public institution received a joint warning letter Tuesday from the Alliance Defending Freedom and Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, telling the school it can revise its policies or get sued.

It’s not the first time Bunker Hill has found itself in the alliance’s cross hairs: Three years ago it received a warning letter about its unconstitutional speech zones and restrictions on religious expression.

The administration sent campus police to stop YAL members from passing out U.S. Constitutions on school grounds earlier this month, several weeks after the chapter sought a permit to set up an information table and host a libertarian speaker on campus, according to the letter.

It still had not received “a copy of procedures on how to obtain recognition” four weeks after its meeting with the student activities office, when it decided to distribute Constitutions anyway. Police reported members for violating the student conduct code:

However, after contacting the Student Activities Office, per the above policy, YAL members discovered there are no such written approval policies and procedures. The above referenced policy and practices impermissibly grant the Student Activities Office and the Student Government Association overly broad discretion over the recognition of student groups. The apparent lack of specific written policies and procedures underscores the discretion available to administrators.

Bunker Hill is imposing an unconstitutional prior restraint and giving administrators “unbridled discretion” to reject speech based on its viewpoint, according to the letter, which said a federal judge in Massachusetts has already knocked down such restraints “in the high school context.”

The letter reminds Bunker Hill that it’s not a four-year college:

Particularly for community college students who may only be students at the school for a limited time, being required to wait for months to receive recognition-with no justification, and with the college’s ban in place on “‘meeting outside of this policy”-infringes the First Amendment right of association.

Bunker Hill has two weeks to respond before the groups sue.

Read the letter, alliance press release and FIRE release.

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