From Daily Mail: A Wisconsin student is suing her college for violating her free speech rights after she was forced to stop handing out religious-themed Valentine’s Day Cards.
The conservative law firm Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty filed the lawsuit on Tuesday in Milwaukee on behalf of Polly Olsen, a student at Northeast Wisconsin Technical College.
The lawsuit alleges Olsen, 29, was handing out cards in the Green Bay College’s student center in February when security workers forced her to stop, saying she might offend people.
The Valentine’s Day cards included messages and referenced Bible verses. One valentine said ‘You are special! 1 John 4:11’ and another said ‘Jesus Loves You!’
The lawsuit challenges the college’s policy of restricting public forums to a small section of campus.
Olsen claims she was not being disruptive, was not a threat, and that the suppression was ‘based, in part, on the religious content of the cards,’ according to the lawsuit. Olsen argued she has been handing out cards on campus for several years, motivated by showing kindness to strangers.
She was told in the past that the public assembly policy would change.
This year, she decided to file a federal lawsuit against the college and a hearing took place on Tuesday. Olsen said she is motivated by ‘showing kindness to strangers’
Olsen told Action 2 News: ‘I’ve been dealing with this issue for four years and they haven’t changed anything. So it was time to reach out and have something else happen.
‘Because everyone needs freedom, and if we don’t have freedom of speech then truth can’t prevail, and lies can run rampant,’ Olsen added.
Olsen, who comes from Greenbay and is studying to become a paralegal, claimed campus security officials and others there violated her free speech rights by blocking a custom she described as ‘caring for others.’
She added: ‘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.
‘I love my school and I hate to do this, but I love my freedom and my country, and God more.’
She said her now-deceased mother started a family tradition of sharing religious Valentines while home-schooling her and her siblings.
According to the school’s incident report obtained by FOX 11, NWTC officials told Olsen she was violating the school’s public assembly policy, which sets a designated space for distribution of literature, picketing or displaying protest signs.
Olsen said that she not in that area, according to the report.
Olsen said the security coordinator cited the college’s Public Assembly Policy that designates a public forum outside the main entrance for ‘picketing’ or ‘displaying of signs’ and ‘mass distribution of literature’ – space she says constitutes less than 0.5% of the campus.
Through its policy, the lawsuit states that the NWTC ‘has effectively deemed all remaining indoor and outdoor areas of campus, outside the prescribed Public Assembly Area, as non-public forums off-limits for student speech and expression.’
The college has maintained and enforced a set of policies that restrict expressive activities to a tiny part of campus and requires prior approval ‘even within that tiny area,’ according to the lawsuit.
Karen Smits, NWTC’s vice president of college advancement, said the campus policy on public assembly has been under review since 2017.
Smits said Olsen was invited to participate in the process, but out of respect to student confidentiality, ‘we do not comment on student conduct.’
Northeast Wisconsin Technical College is committed to the free exchange of ideas and to maintaining a welcoming and safe environment that promotes student success, Smits said. ‘Free speech is exercised every day in many different contexts all over the NWTC campus,’ she said.
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