The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) filed a complaint in U.S. District Court Tuesday on behalf of J. Michael Brown, a former student at the school who is now at the University of Southern Mississippi.
The complaint says that Brown was stopped twice by campus police for trying to inform students about the political club he was involved, Young Americans for Liberty, without prior authorization from the school’s administration.
Brown was stopped by campus officials twice, once in February about an inflatable beach ball, known as a “free speech ball,” upon which students could write messages of their choice and the second in April for polling students about marijuana legalization.
An administrator told YAL that they weren’t permitted on campus since they hadn’t sought permission from the college.
According to Brown, he and another student held up a sign polling students on recreational marijuana. Campus police took him and another student to their office after telling a friend who wasn’t a student to leave and escorted off campus.
“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 in a statement. “College is for cultivating thought and learning and encouraging civil discourse with your peers. That's not what's happening at Jones College.”
The lawsuit seeks declaratory judgement to strike the free speech restraints from the student handbook, a permanent injunction against the school to restrain their enforcement of unconstitutional policies and practices, monetary damages and attorneys’ fees.
The school’s student handbook requires at least three days’ notice to administrators before “gathering for any purpose.” The student handbook also puts even more restrictions on college-connected student organizations, which must schedule their events through the vice president of student affairs. The school administration also reserves the right, according to the handbook, to not schedule a speaker or an activity.
In May, FIRE wrote a letter to Jones Count Junior College President Jesse Smith offering to help the community college bring its policies into compliance with the First Amendment. The school didn’t respond to the letter.
Marieke Tuthill Beck-Coon, FIRE’s director of litigation, said in a statement that the school had a chance to do the right thing.
“Instead, its leaders ignored their responsibility to uphold the First Amendment,” Beck-Coon said. “Now the college has to answer for its censorship in federal court.”
Cody Gibson of Gibson & Mullennix is assisting FIRE with the case as local co-counsel.