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A conservative nonprofit student group at Macomb Community College said the institution’s policy of requiring permission for public speech violates their First Amendment rights.

The Turning Point USA chapter is challenging the college’s “Policy on Expressive Activity” in a federal lawsuit filed Wednesday at U.S. District Court in Detroit, according to Alliance Defending Freedom attorneys representing the organization. Turning Point USA, which has college chapters across the country, said it trains students to “promote the principles of freedom, free markets and limited government.”

The complaint follows an incident in April when members of the chapter, including one dressed in a T-Rex costume, claimed that college police told them they could not speak with other students, pass out literature or collect signatures on the Clinton Township campus because they did not have prior approval from administrators.

The group said three of its members were in an open area of the campus raising awareness about the value fossil fuels provide to society.

“Of all places, public colleges are supposed to be budding laboratories for democracy,” said ADF Legal Counsel Caleb Dalton in a statement Wednesday. “Administrators should encourage, not stifle, free expression. By banning free speech, requiring permission for any public expressive activity, and even then only permitting public expression on .001 percent of the campus, college officials aren’t respecting the constitutionally protected freedoms of students.”

In addition to the college, members of the college’s board of trustees and several administrators are named in the complaint.

Jeanne Nichol, spokeswoman for Macomb Community College, said in an email that the college has not yet been served with a lawsuit and has not had an opportunity to review it.

“Additionally, the college does not comment on pending litigation,” she wrote.

According to the Macomb Community College’s policy on expressive activity, requests must be made in writing to the dean of Student and Community Services at least 48 hours prior to an activity. Requests are to include contact information and description of the activity and the anticipated number of participants.

“The purpose of these guidelines is to ensure an atmosphere conducive to learning, the reasonable conduct of public business, unobstructed access to the college for its students, faculty, employees, occupants and the public, and maintenance of the college grounds,” the policy says.

The dean does not take the content of the speech into consideration when reviewing the application, the policy says.

The Turning Point USA chapter, however, has a different view, alleging that the college’s policies are an “unconstitutional prior restraint on speech, discriminate against the content and viewpoint of speakers in violation of the First and Fourteenth Amendments, and fail to provide equal protection of the law.”

The group also claims that if a request is approved, students are assigned a small “speech zone” they say “limits students’ ability to communicate effectively.”

cwilliams@detroitnews.com

(313) 222-2311

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