On The Front Lines
Free Speech Victory: Federal Court Orders Illinois College to Cease Censorship, Allow Social Activists to Pass Out ‘Politically Incorrect’ Flyers on Campus
CHICAGO, Ill. — At the urging of attorneys for The Rutherford Institute, a federal court has ordered a community college to cease its censorship and allow two social activists to hand out what might be perceived as “politically incorrect” informational flyers on campus. In granting the Institute’s request for a preliminary injunction preventing Waubonsee Community College (WCC) from excluding Wayne Lela and John McCartney from campus, the court found that WCC discriminated against the activists on the basis of the content of their speech when it prohibited them from handing out leaflets for the organization Heterosexuals Organized for a Moral Environment because the speech was not “consistent with the philosophy, goals and mission of the college.” In holding that WCC’s actions inflicted irreparable harm upon the activists, U.S. District Court Judge Robert W. Gettleman noted, “provocative speech is entitled to the same protection as speech promoting popular notions.” As an attorney, Judge Gettleman successfully defended the Nazis’ right to march in their landmark free speech case against the Village of Skokie.
“University campuses once served as the breeding ground for much of the protests that gave rise to needed change in the 1960s—protests that altered the conscience of our nation and created a legacy for future dissenters,” said John W. Whitehead, president of The Rutherford Institute and author of A Government of Wolves: the Emerging American Police State. “We are pleased that the district court recognized the value of free speech, provocative or not, in our society. If college administrators today were allowed to have their way, college campuses would be little more than breeding grounds for compliant citizens content to speak only when spoken to, on politically correct topics guaranteed not to cause disruption or disagreement, and in Orwellian areas designated as free speech zones.”
Waubonsee Community College is a two-year public institution located in Sugar Grove, Illinois. In January 2014, Wayne Lela contacted WCC officials about his desire to distribute informational leaflets on the WCC campus. He was asked to provide copies of the leaflets he proposed to hand out and provided copies of flyers from Heterosexuals Organized for a Moral Environment (HOME). The flyers reflect HOME’s views about heterosexuality and homosexuality, their concerns about the impact the political climate has had on religious liberty and free speech rights, and their response to what they perceived as propaganda used to discredit those opposed to same-sex marriage. Lela subsequently received a letter denying his request to pass out flyers based on the fact that WCC “limits campus activities to events that are not disruptive of the college’s education mission.” Later correspondence justified the denial of access because the flyers violate WCC’s policies on solicitation, use of college facilities, and ethics.
In the lawsuit against WCC and the subsequent motion for a preliminary injunction, Rutherford Institute attorneys argued the policy making the campus available for use by non-college groups provided the use is “consistent with the philosophy, goals and mission of the college” constitutes impermissible viewpoint discrimination on its face. Additionally, Institute attorneys asserted that WCC discriminated against Lela and McCartney because it forbade them from passing out flyers on the campus because of the viewpoints expressed in the flyers. The complaint also alleged that WCC’s policies are unconstitutionally vague by giving unfettered discretion to college officials to determine who may or may not speak on the campus.
Affiliate attorneys Whitman H. Brisky and Noel W. Sterett of Mauck & Baker, LLC, are assisting The Rutherford Institute in its defense of Lela and McCartney’s constitutional rights.