Students from a campus chapter of Young Americans for Freedom sued California’s Clovis Community College earlier this week, alleging that college leaders violated the First Amendment by ordering the removal of flyers that had previously been approved.
The lawsuit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of California, names college President Lori Bennett, vice president of student services Marco De La Garza, dean of student services Gurdeep Sihota Hebért, and senior student services program specialist Patrick Stumpf as defendants.
“Clovis tried to put up barriers against our ideas because administrators didn’t like them,” said YAF-Clovis founder Alejandro Flores. “But that’s the opposite of what a college should do. Our college should encourage us to discuss and sharpen our ideas, not shut down the conversation.”
In November 2021, Flores and two other Clovis students received permission from administrators to hang three flyers on bulletin boards inside Clovis’ academic buildings. The flyers “advocated for freedom and listed the death tolls of communist regimes.”
In December, the college denied the club’s request to post anti-abortion flyers on bulletin boards in the academic buildings, “instead relegating them to an outdoor free-speech kiosk on the Clovis campus,” reports the Fresno Bee.
The students are being represented by the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression (FIRE), a nonprofit whose stated mission is to “defend and sustain the individual rights of all Americans to free speech and free thought.”
In emails obtained via a public record request, a Clovis administrator wrote that — following complaints about the flyers’ content — he would “gladly” take them. The administrator also wrote that approving the flyers in the first place may have been a “mistake,” and that Clovis instead should have censored them under a policy that states: “Posters with inappropriate or offense [sic] language or themes are not permitted and will not be approved,” reports FIRE.
The students argue that they are entitled to monetary damages for the costs of producing the flyers, as well as punitive damages against the college administrators “for their knowing and willful violation” of the students’ constitutional rights.
The lawsuit also seeks an injunction barring the college from applying a club flyer policy that “is facially unconstitutional under the First Amendment because it bans speech that the government deems offensive.”