Picture credit - CBS New York - Free Speech newspaper headline on a copy of the United States Constitution

A student at a community college was stopped by college officials for handing out Valentine’s cards that said “Jesus Loves You.”

Northeast Wisconsin Technical College officials prevented the woman’s decade-long efforts of handing out “Jesus Loves You” valentines. According to a lawsuit filed by the woman, Polly Olsen, the college has designated, but limited, “free speech zones,” a practice that has been outlawed by various states.

Campuses with “free speech zones” ask students to restrict their political and partisan speech to certain predefined areas on campus.

For ten years, Olsen has been handing out these cards with positive phrases and referencing Biblical scripture such as  “Smile, God loves you! John 3:16,” “You are beautiful! Romans 5:8” and “Jesus Loves You!” This year, campus security approached her and told her that she wasn’t allowed to hand out Valentines on campus.

The college responded to Olsen’s actions by sending out a lengthy statement:

Religious beliefs are not relevant to this incident. We have clubs and activities around a variety of beliefs and experiences, from Intervarsity Christian Fellowship to advanced manufacturing to enrolling at college after age 50. The student was stopped by Security in an area that is not for the public. Had she been holding anything else—or nothing—she would still have prompted a call to Security.

NWTC recognizes the First Amendment rights of all individuals, including freedom of speech, freedom of expression and public assembly. NWTC also recognizes its responsibility to provide a secure learning environment that allows individuals to express their views in ways that do not disrupt the operation of the College (e.g., picketing or mass distribution of materials).

The Public Assembly Policy establishes space at NWTC where picketing and mass distribution of literature can occur freely without interfering with students and the business operation of the College. This does not limit what participants can say or distribute (within legal limits). The law recognizes that, unlike a public park, not all physical areas of educational institutions can be open for public assembly. The Public Assembly Policy provides a process that allows students and non-students to reserve this space.

Olsen stated the actions of the college is unconstitutional of her free speech and the lawsuit claims she had visited that non-student area of the campus many times without being invited and it was never an issue.

 

 

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