In June of 2012, a Traditional Values student group in Ohio was told by police they could not hold up their signs and had to place them face down. This act violated the groups First Amendment rights to express their opinion.
According to this article from WND, the Thomas More Society helped bring about a federal lawsuit against Sinclair Community College in Dayton, Ohio. WND also reported that Bryan Kemper, a speaker at the event, had witnessed this all unfold.
“The police walked around the crowd telling people to put their signs down, that they could not hold them in their hands,” said Kemper.
The police’s reasoning for requiring the protesters to put down their signs was because another group complained that the signs had been disruptive. However the school had no policy that did not allow the students to hold up their signs. According to the report filed by the Thomas More Society “it is a fundamental First Amendment law that the content of free speech, no matter how ‘offensive’ it may be to certain onlookers, deserves the very highest degree of legal protection.”
Where and how students protest on college campuses throughout the country has long been the subject of First Amendment challenges. Since the Vietnam War, campus police and their government authorities have attempted to silence protests. A more notable example is the shootings that happened at Kent State. Students protested the expansion of the Vietnam War and unexpectedly faced gunfire by the National Guardsmen. The shooting ended with four dead and nine others wounded.
In Clayton Smith v. Tarrant County College District, the school banned their students from wearing empty holsters on their belts as protest (Case 4:09-cv-00658-Y). The group running the protest, Students for Concealed Carry on Campus, was seeking to have state and college authorities, allow students who are licensed, to carry a concealed firearm on campus.
Smith had told the school they would be holding this protest throughout campus and was told he could not pass out pamphlets. They also told him he could not talk outside of the ‘Free speech zone’. He canceled the event.
Later in 2009, the group attempted another protest and the school again turned down Smith and said that their policy had changed. Following, Smith filed a lawsuit under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 on November 3, 2009. In the end the school was found to be denying first amendment rights by designating free speech zones and keeping out areas that are normally considered public forums. However the court found that classrooms are subject to more regulation than other areas.
In the case involving Sinclair Community College, they decided to pay the attorney’s fees and also revise their policy. The new policy would make Sinclair Community a much more free speech friendly area.
Peter Breen, executive director and legal counsel of the Thomas More Society, was quoted by WND saying, “Freedom of expression is an absolutely fundamental value in a democratic, self-governing society and indispensable to the educational process.”