College tries to censor conservative opinions, draws lawsuit

A community college that is accused of trying to censor conservative opinions on campus has drawn a lawsuit for its agenda.

Officials with the Foundation for Individual Rights and Express say they have sued California’s Clovis Community College on behalf of several conservative students.

FIRE charges that public colleges cannot ban students’ flyers because administrators subjectively dislike their political viewpoints.

FIRE represents students from a campus chapter of Young Americans for Freedom, who had tried to hand out flyers with their opinions.

“Clovis tried to put up barriers against our ideas because administrators didn’t like them,” said YAF-Clovis founder Alejandro Flores. “But that’s the opposite of what a college should do. Our college should encourage us to discuss and sharpen our ideas, not shut down the conversation.”

It was last fall that Alejandro and fellow club members Daniel Flores and Juliette Colunga obtained permission from college officials to hang three flyers on bulletin boards that also are used by a wide range of other interests.

The opinions posted advocated for freedom – and they listed the death tolls of various communist regimes.

A public records request revealed that one Clovis school administrator volunteered he “gladly” would take the flyers down and censor the students’ perspectives because someone had complained about their message.

Cited was a school policy stating, “Posters with inappropriate or offense (sic) language or themes are not permitted…”

FIRE explained how the school officials next manipulated the truth to have the flyers removed.

“On Nov. 12, Clovis President Lori Bennett personally ordered the flyers removed. After doing so, she searched for a reason to justify the viewpoint discrimination, inventing a brand new rule requiring flyers to double as club announcements,” FIRE reported.

Bennett actually wrote, “If you need a reason, you can let them know that [we] agreed they aren’t club announcements.”

However, FIRE pointed out, “Clovis does not have a policy on the books that requires flyers to be club announcements. But with this excuse in hand, Clovis employees told student workers to remove the flyers.”

Officials then used their “pretextual justification” to banish other flyers that had been approved earlier to a “rotting ‘free speech kiosk'” in a remote part of the campus.

“By relegating the flyers to a tiny kiosk, Clovis administrators tried to ensure that YAF’s opinions would never reach the rest of campus,” explained FIRE lawyer Jeff Zeman. “But FIRE’s here to amplify the voices that censors try to silence and make sure that all Clovis students are heard.”

The organization advocating for students pointed out that public colleges, like Clovis, are required to follow the First Amendment, under which it is unconstitutional to treat student groups differently based on their viewpoints.

“Free speech is under attack on campuses across the nation, and the recent improper action by Clovis Community College constitutes yet another disappointing example,” said Young America’s Foundation President Gov. Scott Walker. “By attempting to stifle the speech of the conservative students in our Young Americans for Freedom chapter, Clovis administrators engaged in unlawful censorship in violation of the First Amendment.”

The lawsuit is against the college president and other officials, and seeks to change an unconstitutional policy and hold officials “personally accountable for violating students’ clearly established free speech rights.”

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