On Friday, the ACLU of Virginia sent a letter to the Chancellor and Board of the Virginia Community College System (VCCS) informing them that VCCS’s policies limiting the right to protest on Virginia’s community college campuses violate the First Amendment. The letter called upon the VCCS to take swift action to revise the policies.
“Virginia’s community college students deserve a first-rate higher education, which is impossible without a free exchange of ideas on campus,” said Claire Guthrie Gastañaga, executive director of the ACLU of Virginia. “We were shocked to discover the restrictive nature of the VCCS demonstration polices.”
The letter comes in the wake of a lawsuit filed against VCCS and officials at Thomas Nelson Community College in Hampton by student Christian Parks, who says that school officials told him that his on-campus evangelizing violated the demonstration policy. Under the policy, only recognized student groups may sponsor demonstrations, and they must register four days in advance to do so.
“College administrators may sometimes need advance knowledge of large demonstrations on campus, but to apply these rules to a single student talking to his peers is absurd and unconstitutional,” said Gastañaga. “We fully support Mr. Parks’ lawsuit.”
The ACLU of Virginia letter faults the VCCS policy on numerous grounds, including its failure to define “demonstration” to exclude individuals and small groups. The letter also points out that by limiting demonstrations to recognized student organizations, the policy prohibits demonstrations on a large number of topics and viewpoints where no formal group exists. The policy applies to all twenty-three of Virginia’s public community colleges.
“To protect the free speech rights of community college students, faculty, and staff, this policy must be changed now,” said Gastañaga. “We hope that new policies will be proposed in time for the VCCS Board to adopt them at its next meeting, in May.”
The letter to VCCS offers the ACLU of Virginia’s assistance in crafting polices that comply with the Constitution. The letter can be found here.