Montclair State University recently came under fire in a lawsuit alleging it violated a student group’s Constitutional right to free speech.
Montclair State University came under fire earlier this month when the campus’ Young Americans for Liberty chapter filed a lawsuit alleging the university violated its freedom of speech by “shutting down a peaceful gun rights demonstration on campus last year.” According to the lawsuit, Mena Botros, the president of Young Americans for Liberty, and two other students “donned orange jumpsuits and posed as criminals while holding signs mockingly supporting gun-free zones” during the demonstration on September 10, 2019. Some of the signs read, ‘every civilian gun is a threat’ and ‘criminals for gun-free zones.’
Even though the demonstration was peaceful and held in a “common outdoor area of campus, a university police officer ordered them to stop,” according to the Alliance Defending Freedom, the organization that is representing the students. The suit further states that demonstrators “were on a sidewalk, speaking at normal levels and not otherwise interfering with university activities.” The Alliance Defending Freedom added:
“[The officer] told the students that anyone who wants to speak on campus has to obtain permission at least two weeks in advance and that the dean’s office would assign them a time and place to speak.”
However, the lawsuit argues that such a requirement “imposes an unconstitutional prior restraint on all students throughout the entire campus.” Additionally, the requirement permits the university to “deny a request or hold it indefinitely for any reason…There are no objective guidelines for the policy,” according to the suit. When commenting on the matter, Alliance Defending Freedom Legal Counsel Michael Ross said:
“A public university is supposed to be a marketplace of ideas, but that marketplace can’t function if officials impose burdensome restraints on speech or if they can selectively enforce those restraints against disfavored groups.”
So far the university has pushed back against the allegations in the suit. Susan A. Cole, the president of Montclair State University said the school is committed to defending policies pertaining to freedom of speech on campus. She said, “Montclair State University is absolutely and unequivocally committed to freedom of speech. Our policy and procedures concerning demonstrations and assemblies are based on a balance between the two principles.” She added:
“The first principle is the right of members of the University community to freedom of assembly and speech and the benefits to be derived in a free society and in a free and open University from fostering discourse and permitting the exchange of ideas. Consistent with that principle, no member of the University community is subject to any limitation or penalty for demonstrating or assembling with others for the expression of his/her viewpoint…The second principle is the right of all members of the University community to be able to engage without disruption in all University organized activities, including, but not limited to, educational, scholarly, research, business, cultural, informational, recreational or public outreach activities. The University has adopted appropriate procedures to assure that it functions in accordance with those principles, and we have no reason to think that we have taken any action in violation of our principles or policies.”