By Linda Bentley Sonoran News
In the wake of a lawsuit filed by Alliance Defense Fund attorneys, Maricopa Community College officials have made policy changes to respect the free speech rights of visitors to the Arizona system’s campuses.
The ADF lawsuit, filed in December 2011 on behalf of Mesa resident Ryan Arneson, argued that charging fees, requiring an insurance payment, and demanding a two-week advance notice is unconstitutional. The policy changes led to a settlement in which the college district will also pay Arneson’s attorneys’ fees.
“Free speech can’t come with a price tag and a burdensome waiting period,” said ADF Litigation Staff Counsel Jonathan Scruggs. “Maricopa Community Colleges has done the right thing in changing its policy so that it respects free speech rights protected by the First Amendment. Christians visiting public college campuses shouldn’t be deterred from expressing their beliefs because of cumbersome, unconstitutional policies.”
The lawsuit came about after Arneson was unable to express his Christian beliefs on the campus of South Mountain Community College because of the college system’s burdensome requirements. ADF attorneys originally wrote to MCC officials about the problem in May of last year.
At the beginning of 2010, Arneson inquired of an official at South Mountain Community College as to what he must do in order to peacefully share his faith on campus by handing out literature and speaking with willing passers-by as he had done in two previous years without incident. Unlike in previous years, the official instructed Arneson to abide by the college’s solicitation policy even though he is only an individual wishing to engage in individual expression.
The policy required private individuals and groups alike to pay a minimum $50 fee, pay for insurance, and submit a request form and proof of insurance 14 days prior to visiting campus. The revised policy drops those requirements and now only requires two days notice prior to visiting a campus.
Chris Stovall of Phoenix, one of nearly 2,100 attorneys in the ADF alliance, served as local counsel in the lawsuit, Arneson v. Maricopa Community College District, filed with the U.S. District Court for the District of Arizona.