Public College Prohibiting Distribution of “Students for Concealed Carry on Campus” Pamphlets?

The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education reports that this indeed happened, at the Community College of Allegheny County in Pennsylvania. At this point, the factual allegations are just the student’s, with no confirmation by the school (the school was asked for its side of the matter on April 29, and wrote on May 13 that “a response will be forthcoming in a reasonable time frame,” but hasn’t said anything further). Still, I have found FIRE’s past factual assertions to be quite reliable; and if the student’s accusations are accurate, this seems like a serious First Amendment problem. Check out FIRE’s summary, and the linked documents, and see for yourself.

I should note that the college apparently defended itself on the grounds that students couldn’t use the name of the college without the college’s permission. But according to FIRE, the name was used in a way that made clear that it was just identifying the location of a student group; I see no constitutional basis for the college to prohibit the use of a name in this context (though I suppose that it might, in an excess of caution, require that use of the name be accompanied with an express note that the college name is used only for identification purposes, and not as a sign of endorsement).

I should also note that the college reportedly asserted that its policy is to require preapproval of student publications; to the extent that such a policy is permitted on college property, it has to be nondiscretionary and viewpoint-neutral, and according to the student’s account the college claimed that it would not approve publications that express this viewpoint. And the only policy that FIRE could find that supposedly covered this behavior (which the college reportedly labeled as “soliciation”) was this one, which is pretty clearly unconstitutional:

Solicitation: The distribution or display of, and the personal contact with individuals or groups related to non-sponsored college material or events, without prior written approval of the college are prohibited. These actions are limited to public property; however, public property in this context does not include college property.

I hope to hear more about this case in the future, and especially to hear the college’s side of the story.

Disclosure: I will be a keynote speaker at FIRE’s 10th Anniversary event this October.

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