- A student at Northeast Wisconsin Technical College filed a federal lawsuit against the college claiming her right to free speech was violated when she was prohibited from distributing Valentine's Day notes that contained Bible verses in an area of the student union, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
- A campus security coordinator told the woman she was "disturbing the learning environment and walking into an area that is restricted to students without being invited or announced."
- The lawsuit claims the college's policy restricting picketing, signs and mass distribution of literature to one public assembly area on campus excessively restricts free speech. It also says the woman was not a "suspicious person." A college official said the policy has been under review but that the college has the right to restrict such activities in some areas.
Free speech concerns on campus have involved issues beyond distribution of literature with religious messages, including visits by controversial speakers, blog posts by professors, political messages chalked on sidewalks, and most recently, the removal of a confederate monument. In one case, the University of Washington was required to pay $127,000 in legal fees to a student group that filed a suit claiming the university discriminated against it when it required the organization to pay an extra fee for security during a speech by a controversial figure.
Universities are considering ways to handle the growing problem, Politico reported, including allocating more funds and training for campus security and developing moderated opportunities for students to express themselves on controversial issues. Experts recommend college presidents be proactive in developing policy and procedures and that they become familiar with free speech law.
One recent study showed students generally believe free speech should be protected, including the rights of students and groups on campus with diverse views. Meanwhile, a study of roughly 4,500 colleges by the Georgetown University Free Speech Project suggests issues involving free speech may be overstated and inaccurately seen as a problem to a greater degree by conservative groups.