Chemeketa Community College restricts outdoor free speech on their campus to two small areas that together make up 1.5% of the campus. Additionally, students must obtain permission two weeks before using those designated free speech zones to speak publicly on campus.

On February 26, 2020, members of the college’s Students for Life club wanted to host a debate on physician-assisted suicide. While the students were able to obtain permission to host the debate, they chose not to promote it by passing out flyers outside between classes to be extra careful not to infringe upon the college’s restrictive speech policy.

The two leaders of Chemeketa’s Students for Life club, Marcos Sanchez and Emma Howell, chose to take action against Chemeketa Community College to protect their free speech rights and their ability to share their moral convictions with other students.

On Tuesday April 5, Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) representing Students for Life and the two girls filed a lawsuit against the Chemeketa Board of Education in the United States District Court for the District of Oregon over the speech policy.

“The only permission slip students need in order to speak on public college campuses is the First Amendment,” ADF Legal Counsel Michael Ross said in a press release. “Students don’t give up their constitutionally protected freedoms when they step on to campus or hold a specific viewpoint. Our clients have the right to peacefully engage and persuade their peers. They also have the freedom to support pregnant and parenting students without censorship or harassment from their school.”

In the press release, ADF Senior Counsel Tyson Langhofer, director of the ADF Center for Academic Freedom, said, “Today’s college students are our future legislators, judges and voters. That’s why it’s so important that public universities model the First Amendment values they’re supposed to be teaching students. Pro-life students—like their peers—have the freedom to share messages of hope and healing without first asking college administrators for permission to speak.”

The President of Students for Life, Kristan Hawkins, also issued a statement defending free speech. “The law and the Constitution are clear on the matter: Public schools cannot silence pro-life groups or force them to self-censor. If Chemeketa Community College wants to respect every member of its community, it will clarify that Students for Life can participate in the open exchange of ideas and ensure that the entire college community becomes a ‘free speech zone’ for pro-life students and their peers,” she said.

Ironically, the college’s speech guidelines claim that “Chemeketa recognizes and supports the rights of free expression and speech.”

The Daily Citizen has frequently covered stories dealing with the infringement of free speech, especially on college campuses. In one story, we reported that the majority of millennials no longer believe in free speech rights, and 48% say ‘hate speech’ should be outlawed.

Visit our Free Speech webpage to learn more.

The case is Chemeketa Students for Life v. Members of the Chemeketa Board of Education.


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