The Justice Department weighed in on a federal campus free-speech suit this week, coming down solidly on the side of free speech and open, unregulated dialogue.
The DOJ proclaimed that neither Jones County Junior College in Ellisville, Mississippi, nor any other public educational institution, can “trample on” its students’ First Amendment rights, the Daily Beast reports.
Former Jones County student J. Michael Brown — along with the nonprofit group Young Americans for Liberty — sued in September, saying the college had instituted a policy requiring that school officials pre-approve all “meetings or gatherings” at least three days before any event on campus, The Clarion-Ledger reported at the time.
Brown’s suit alleged that college officials twice called campus police when he “sought to engage on campus with fellow students about topics such as free speech and civil liberties” and marijuana legalization, according to a press release from the Justice Department. Based on current school policies a student’s violation of rules about gatherings could lead to expulsion, the statement said.
The government’s 14-page statement of interest filed in federal court this week cites Supreme Court case law and compares the college’s “extreme preconditions to speech” to George Orwell’s famous novel 1984, in which speech is rigidly controlled by the state.
“As alleged, these draconian regulations are no mere paper tigers: JCJC enforces them to the extreme,” the government said in its filing. “Preconditions like these have no place in the United States of America.”
“Some people get in trouble for smoking weed, but at Jones College, I got in trouble just for trying to talk about it,” Brown told The Clarion-Ledger when he first filed his lawsuit. “That’s not what college is for. We’re supposed to debate openly about important issues, especially ones with huge national significance.”
Assistant Attorney General Eric Dreiband, who works in the civil rights division of the Justice Department, slammed the college’s policies on Monday in a statement, writing, “The United States of America is not a police state.”
In a similarly critical statement, U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos called the case “yet another concerning example of students encountering limits on what, when, where, and how they learn.”