(CN) – Students claim in a federal lawsuit that Grand Valley State University restricts their expressive activity to two small areas on campus and requires them to get permission before using those “speech zones.”
Turning Point USA at Grand Valley State University, and two students, Tim McKeeby and Joe Tucker, sued eight trustees of Grand Valley State University in Grand Rapids federal court on Wednesday.
According to the 25-page complaint, Grand Valley State University, a public liberal arts school located in Allendale, Mich., has a “free speech/open forum areas policy” that regulates expressive activity, limiting such activity to two small areas on campus and requiring students to get the university’s permission before engaging in free speech in those designated zones.
The policy also allows Grand Valley unbridled discretion to restrict the content and viewpoint of student speech, the students say.
On Oct. 17, McKeeby, Tucker and two others were on a large open walkway in front of the university’s Student Services building and were talking with other students about their First Amendment rights, according to the complaint.
McKeeby and Tucker say students were writing messages on a large beach ball called a “free speech ball” when Grand Valley administrators and campus security approached them and said they were violating the school’s speech-zone policy and were not allowed to conduct “expressive activity” in that specific area of campus.
The students were told “that they must immediately stop engaging in the speech activities or they would be arrested for trespassing,” the complaint states.
Turning Point USA, which was founded by McKeeby, is run by a group of Grand Valley students who are interested in speaking with fellow students about important issues, including their rights to free speech and assembly.
The group says Grand Valley’s policy and practices have deprived them of those freedoms.
“The campus of a public university has been called a ‘marketplace of ideas.’ That marketplace depends on free expression by students,” the complaint states.
The students seek a ruling that the speech-zone policy and its enforcement violates their rights under the First and Fourteenth Amendments.
They are represented by Tyson Langhofer with Alliance Defending Freedom in Scottsdale, Ariz., and by David & Wierenga PC in Grand Rapids, Mich.
In addition to the trustees, Grand Valley State President Thomas J. Haas – along with Gayle R. Davis, executive vice president for academic and student affairs, and Bob Stoll, associate dean of student life – are also named defendants.
Mary Eilleen Lyon, associate vice president for university communications at Grand Valley, said in a statement that the university “embraces the First Amendment and encourages, supports and defends free speech.”
“As to the event in question, an organization not affiliated with the university — not a registered student organization — reserved a public gathering space through the university’s event services unit for a ‘free speech ball’ event. Participants did not follow the policy for outside organizations using university property because after the event was underway, participants moved out of the space that had been reserved for their use,” Lyon said. “When asked to return to the reserved space, participants dispersed, voluntarily bringing the event to an end. ”