His College Tried Shutting Down Political Activism, Now He’s Suing Them With Some Help

Jones County Junior College student Mike Brown is getting a taste of free speech suppression.

One day on campus, Brown was casually polling his college pupils about marijuana legalization and tried to get a conversation on civil liberties going. Ironically, he was then stripped of his own civil liberties.

Campus police took him into the police chief’s office and reprimanded him for exercising his First Amendment rights “without the college’s permission.”

On Wednesday, September 4, 2019, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) aided Brown in a lawsuit against Jones County Junior College over its anti-free speech policies.

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This public Mississippi institution stopped Brown twice from exercising his First Amendment rights when he attempted to recruit students for the Jones County Junior College chapter of Young Americans for Liberty.

Back in April, Brown and two other individuals held up a sign for polling students on the legalization of marijuana. However, Jones College administrators weren’t having it. They quickly called on campus police to shutdown Brown’s activity because the group did not file the necessary paperwork. FIRE reports that Jones College “requires administrative approval and a minimum three-day waiting period before “gathering for any purpose” anywhere on campus.”

Brown and another student were then taken to the police chief’s office, as their friend, a non-student, was escorted to his vehicle and was directed to vacate the premises. Had he not complied with this order, he would have been arrested.

While in the chief’s office, the police chief scolded Brown for exercising his First Amendment rights without obtaining the administration’s permission.

“Some people get in trouble for smoking weed, but at Jones College, I got in trouble just for trying to talk about it,” Brown stated. “College is for cultivating thought and learning and encouraging civil discourse with your peers. That’s not what’s happening at Jones College.”

This wasn’t Brown’s first time having his First Amendment rights threatened at Jones College. Earlier in February, Brown and a friend set up “free speech ball,” an inflatable beach ball which students wrote messages of their own while YAL representatives talked to them about the value of free speech. An administrative official told them that they were not allowed on campus because they weren’t given Jones College’s explicit approval to hold this event.

“Students shouldn’t have to seek permission — then wait three or more days — before they can exercise their First Amendment rights,” declared Marieke Tuthill Beck-Coon, FIRE’s director of litigation. “If a ball threatens the administration so much that they call campus police, no speech is safe at Jones College.”

FIRE wrote a letter to Jones College President Jesse Smith on May 16. They offered to help bring the college’s unconstitutional policies into compliance with the First Amendment. Smith did not respond.

“Jones College had a chance to do the right thing,” said Tuthill Beck-Coon. “Instead, its leaders ignored their responsibility to uphold the First Amendment. Now the college has to answer for its censorship in federal court.”

Public institutions like Jones College may enact reasonable restrictions on student speech, but they cannot maintain blanket restrictions on all student speech. Brown’s lawsuit demands that Jones College immediately change its unconstitutional speech policies for the sake of restoring the First Amendment rights of thousands of students attending Jones College.

Cody W. Gibson of Gibson & Mullennix, PLLC joined FIRE in filing this lawsuit. The lawsuit is a part of FIRE’s Million Voices Campaign, “which aims to free the voices of one million students by striking down unconstitutional speech codes nationwide.” FIRE contends that “these efforts have successfully helped over 350,000 students.”

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