Christian Says College Won’t Let Him Preach

     FORT DODGE, Iowa (CN) – A Christian evangelical claims in a federal lawsuit that his free speech rights are being trampled by an Iowa Community College that won’t let him approach students on campus to talk about God.
     In a complaint filed Thursday, Brian Henderson, a civil engineer by profession, says he began visiting the campus of Iowa Central Community College in 2013 to share “his Christian faith with the hope that people will trust in Jesus and be saved.”
     In doing so, he says, he employed a variety of tactics to engage students in the college’s public areas, where he handed out religious tracts and initiated trivia games with dollar bills as prizes for correct answers.
     “Regardless of how he started the conversation, Henderson strived to show students that he truly cared about them,” the complaint says. “He did not ask for donations or membership in any organization … He only asked students to consider his message.”
     But when Henderson approached a campus security guard in February 2014 with his gospel tracts, the security guard told him, “You can’t be doing this here on Iowa Central Campus,” the complaint says.
     Assuming “the security guard must have been mistaken,” Henderson continued his proselytizing until defendant Anthony Acklin, the school’s Student Activities Coordinator, approached him and said he had to leave, the complaint says.
     The court documents go on to recount a series of meetings between Henderson and Acklin, College Board Chairman Mark Crimmins, College President Dan Kinney, and College Vice President Tom Beneke, all named as defendants in the lawsuit.
     The administrators allegedly pointed to a handbook policy stating that, “Any person, organization, or group shall not distribute pamphlets, booklets, brochures, handbills, circulars, or other forms of written materials, solicitations, or advertisements on college property,” the complaint says.
     Henderson claims he was not “soliciting” because he did not represent an organization and did not ask students for anything. But the administrators said his activity was a no-go even if he left the religious tracts and prize payments out of it, the complaint says.
     It quotes Crimmins as allegedly saying, “The purpose of this policy, at least in my mind, is to protect our students from people coming up and bothering them on campus … and when I say bother, I talk about salesmen, I talk about witnessing, I talk about anybody who comes up and talks to you without being invited to come up and talk to you.”
     “If we enforce this like he wants to, our kids could come to lunch and be approached by five different people, for Christianity, for Judaism, for black magic, for devil worship,” Crimmins allegedly added.
     The complaint also recounts the comments of non-party Deb Loerch, another board member, who allegedly said, “These students are immature. Most of them, this is their first time away from home. They aren’t sure how to react in some situations at their age, and I think it could possibly put them in an uncomfortable position.”
     “The fact that this is an open campus doesn’t mean that everybody gets to come on and do whatever they want to do,” Crimmins added, according to the complaint.
     The administrators encouraged Henderson to participate in student Christian groups or to set up a table during the college community fair at the beginning of the year, but Henderson says this is at odds with his goal “to witness to students on campus that are not already Christians.”
     Henderson, who says he’s stopped visiting the campus for fear of arrest, seeks injunctive relief and nominal damaged for violations of his due process and free speech rights.
     
     He is represented by Micah Schreurs of Wolff, Whorley, De Hoogh & Schreurs of Sheldon, Iowa, and Nathan Kellum, of the Center for Religious Expression, of Memphis, Tenn.
     
     The college did not respond to a request for comment.
     However, Nate Kellum told Courthouse News that while he’s aware of speech restrictions on other college campuses, “the situation at ICCC is unique.”
     “Though they have a wide-open campus and allow for a variety of expression, they arbitrarily label Henderson’s religious expression ‘solicitation’ and prohibit him from initiating any conversations on the campus,” Kellum said.

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