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Image of Northeast Wisconsin Technical College Student Center
Northeast Wisconsin Technical College Student Center; image courtesy of Royalbroil via Wikimedia Commons, https://commons.wikimedia.org

Northeast Wisconsin Technical College recently responded to a federal suit filed by Polly Olsen, a student at the university, who claims the school “violated her First Amendment rights.” According to her suit, the university violated her rights “when campus security stopped her from handing out Valentine’s hearts with Bible verses.” For example, some of the valentines had quotes that said, “You are special! 1 John 4:11,” and another said, “Jesus Loves You!”

The incident occurred back on February 14 of this year at the school’s Green Bay campus. School officials learned about the valentines when “a person called campus security to complain about a student passing out Valentine’s Day cards with bible references on the cards.” From there, campus security tracked down Olsen and escorted her to the university’s Security Office. Once there, she was told by a security supervisor that “some people may find the Bible references on her cards to be offensive.”

Image of Valentine's Day Candy
Valentine’s Day Candy; image courtesy of Laura Ockel via Unsplash, www.unsplash.com

According to the university, the campus has designated areas known as Public Assembly Areas “where people can express themselves without getting permission from the school.” However, the school claims that “Olsen was handing out the valentines in the General Studies Office of the Student Center, which is not one of the Public Assembly Areas on campus.”

Olsen’s lawsuit pushed back against the designated expression areas, arguing that they’re “unconstitutional because they limit a person’s ability to free speech.”

When commenting on her decision to file the suit against the school, Olsen said:

“Because everyone needs freedom, and if we don’t have freedom of speech then truth can’t prevail, and lies can run rampant. And so it’s a very important thing for our country to strengthen us, and to really build a unity because if we can’t express our opinions then those underlying emotions can build.”

However, in its response to the suit, the university said that the “Public Assembly Policy does not violate the constitution” and denied that the school’s decision to “stop Olsen from handing out her cards was based, in part, on the religious content of the cards.”

The university also noted that their policy “applies to uninvited persons and organizations wishing to use an area for public assembly on campus and that each NWTC campus and regional learning center will ‘designate space assigned as a limited public forum referred to as the Public Assembly Area.” In fact, the school’s response reads:

“Due to the nature of Northeast Wisconsin Technical College’s facilities and educational operations, none of its campuses or regional learning centers are traditional public forums.”

In addition to its response, the university also asked “for a judgment dismissing the lawsuit.”

Sources:

NWTC asks for dismissal of religious valentine lawsuit

NWTC denies it violated student’s rights in Valentine’s Day card case

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