On Monday, December 9, 2019, the Justice Department supported a free speech lawsuit declaring that neither Jones County Junior College in Ellisville, Mississippi nor any public educational institution — in general — can “trample on” its students’ right to free speech.
Former student J. Michael Brown teamed up with the non-profit group Young Americans for Liberty in filing a lawsuit back in September, arguing that the college had enacted a policy mandating that campus administrators pre-approve all “meetings or gatherings” at least three days prior to any event on campus, according to a report from The Clarion-Ledger.
Brown’s lawsuit contended that college administrators allegedly called the campus police twice on him when he “sought to engage on campus with fellow students about topics such as free speech and civil liberties” and marijuana legalization, according to a Justice Department press release from last Monday. Under the school’s current policies, a student’s violation of its rules about meetings and gatherings could have them be expelled from campus, according to the statement.
The government’s 14-page statement of interest which was filed in federal court last Monday brings attention to Supreme Court case law and compares the college’s “extreme preconditions to speech” to the dystopia that George Orwell’s famous novel 1984 famously portrayed.
“As alleged, these draconian regulations are no mere paper tigers: JCJC enforces them to the extreme,” the government declared in its legal filing. “Preconditions like these have no place in the United States of America.”
“Some people get in trouble for smoking weed, but at Jones College, I got in trouble just for trying to talk about it,” Brown told The Clarion-Ledger when he initially filed his lawsuit. “That’s not what college is for. We’re supposed to debate openly about important issues, especially ones with huge national significance.”
Assistant Attorney General Eric Dreiband, who is a part of the civil rights division of the Justice Department, criticized the college’s policies on Monday in a statement noting that “The United States of America is not a police state.”
“Repressive speech codes are the indecent hallmark of despotic, totalitarian regimes,” Dreiband commented. “They have absolutely no place in our country, and the First Amendment outlaws all tyrannical policies, practices, and acts that abridge the freedom of speech.”
U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos also criticized this case calling it “yet another concerning example of students encountering limits on what, when, where, and how they learn.”
“This is happening far too often on our nation’s campuses,” she continued. “This administration won’t let students be silenced. We stand with their right to speak and with their right to learn truth through the free exchange of ideas—particularly those with which they might disagree.”
Mike Hurst, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of Mississippi, also commented that “unconstitutional restrictions on our first freedoms to speak and assemble directly threaten our liberty as Americans.”
“While some may disagree with the content of one’s speech, we should all be fighting for everyone’s constitutional right to speak,” stated Hurst. “I pray JCJC will do the right thing, change its policies to comply with the U.S. Constitution, and encourage its students to speak and assemble throughout our free state.”
The college declared in September that its policies exist “not to limit students’ right to free speech or assembly” but to “ensure that all students have equal and safe access to an environment free from hate speech; racial, gender, national origin, religious affiliation; and disability discrimination.”
A spokesperson representing Jones County Junior College on Wednesday, December 11, 2019 said that the government’s statement of interest “broadly accepts” the suit’s “unproven” allegations and that the school anticipates the court ruling on its motion to dismiss the complaint.
“Our mission is to teach the ideals of a democratic society,” the school said in a release. “We focus every effort to ensure our students have access to their future through advanced affordable education that stands not only on free inquiry but promotes learning, advances knowledge, and promotes economic growth for the American family.”
This is a big victory for free speech.
College campuses have become centers of thought control in contemporary times, so students must be prepared to fight back.
Yielding to speech policing is not an option in today’s era of political correctness.