Alliance Defending Freedom attorneys filed a federal lawsuit today on behalf of a student who is challenging a restrictive speech zone at Paradise Valley Community College. The college restricts students to one designated zone in which they can exercise their constitutionally protected freedom of speech and only with prior permission between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. Monday through Friday if the zone is not already fully reserved.
“Colleges are supposed to be a place where ideas are freely shared, not gagged,” said ADF Senior Counsel Tyson Langhofer. “A college short-circuits its own purpose when it places its own restrictive speech rules above the freedoms that the First Amendment guarantees to students and all Americans.”
On Oct. 7, Brittany Mirelez, a student at PVCC, set up a table in the speech zone to talk with other students about joining the Young Americans for Liberty student group she is trying to start at PVCC and to hand out copies of the U.S. Constitution. YAL is a non-partisan, grassroots political advocacy group that promotes liberty values on college campuses throughout the country.
Shortly after setting up her table, an administrator informed Mirelez that she was not allowed to be in the speech zone because she did not obtain prior permission 48 hours in advance as the college’s Guidelines for Public Expression on Campus requires. The administrator instructed her to set up her table in the cafeteria, which is not included in the speech zone, as a one-time concession only and said she must abide by the college’s public expression policy going forward.
The policy prohibits students from speaking in any areas on campus outside of the speech zone, including on public sidewalks, walkways, lawns, and other outdoor areas. Instead, students must confine their expressive activities to the zone, and if the zone is fully reserved, they may not speak at all.
The lawsuit, Mirelez v. Dale, filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Arizona, argues that the college’s policy unconstitutionally chills protected student speech and disables the ability of students to speak freely on campus about recent and unfolding events. It asks for the court to strike down the public expression policy and issue a declaration that the college violated Mirelez’s constitutionally protected freedom of speech.
“As our lawsuit explains, the cornerstone of higher education is the ability of students to participate in the ‘marketplace of ideas’ on campus,” said ADF Senior Counsel David Hacker. “That marketplace depends on free, vigorous, and often spontaneous debate carried out through the spoken word, fliers, signs, and displays. If public colleges stifle that kind of speech, they violate both the First Amendment and a core purpose behind their own existence.”
Kenneth W. Schutt, one of more than 3,000 private attorneys allied with ADF, is serving as local counsel in the case.