On The Front Lines
Rutherford Institute Files First Amendment Lawsuit Against Illinois College for Discriminating Against Social Activists with Politically ‘Incorrect’ Views
CHICAGO, Ill. — Challenging a policy by an Illinois community college that discriminates against speech and expressive activities which are not “consistent with the philosophy, goals and mission of the college,” attorneys for The Rutherford Institute have filed a First Amendment lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois on behalf of two social activists who were prohibited from handing out informational flyers on campus. In coming to the defense of Wayne Lela and John McCartney, who were prevented from distributing flyers for Heterosexuals Organized for a Moral Environment at the Waubonsee Community College (WCC) campus because the college disapproved of the views expressed in the flyers, Rutherford Institute attorneys allege that the college’s actions amount to political correctness in the form of unconstitutional viewpoint discrimination.
“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. “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 propaganda used to discredit those opposed to same-sex marriage, among other things. 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 filing suit against the community college, Rutherford Institute attorneys point out that WCC’s 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. The complaint quotes a ruling of the U.S. Supreme Court that “[d]iscrimination against speech because of its message is presumed to be unconstitutional.” Additionally, the complaint asserts 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 alleges 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. Briksy and Jeffrey M. Schwab of Mauck & Baker, LLC, are assisting The Rutherford Institute by representing Lela and McCartney.