A Wisconsin college is accused of violating a student’s constitutional rights, according to a lawsuit alleging that administrators deemed a Valentine’s Day card giveaway “disruptive.”
According to Campus Reform, Polly Olsen attempted to hand out a variety of handmade cards to fellow students on the Green Bay campus of Northeast Wisconsin Technical College. She said the tradition started with her mother.
The cards were inscribed with messages including “Jesus loves you” and “You have a purpose,” along with scripture references.
“Since my mother’s passing, I have carried on the tradition in her memory,” Olsen explained.
Having suffered through her mother’s death, her brother’s serious injury and her own homelessness in recent years, Olsen described this event as a way to give something to others who might be going through a tough time.
According to the school, her display violated its stated public assembly policy. The school requires what it deems disruptive speech to be confined to a “free speech zone.”
Under the school’s policy, the lawsuit claims a security officer called her a “disruptive student” and informed her that she was “soliciting.”
Olsen’s lawsuit claims that policy is unconstitutional.
“Ms. Olsen was not selling the Valentines, soliciting donations, or asking the recipients for anything,” the lawsuit states. “Everyone was free to decline them.”
According to the student behind the lawsuit, the area in which she would have been required to stand is “about the size of two buses next to each other” and is hardly a prime location for her intended outreach.
She said people “just walk through” the area, which is not known as a place for students to gather.
The entire experience has left her “hopeless and hurt,” she told Campus Reform.
“NWTC thinks that they have the right to prohibit this freedom,” she said, adding that such restriction is “not what education is about.”
Prior to filing the lawsuit, Olsen said she tried unsuccessfully to arrange a hearing with officials.
Karen Smits, a vice president at NWTC, said the school is “committed to the free exchange of ideas and to maintaining a welcoming and safe environment that promotes student success.”
She went on to say that “free speech is exercised every day in many different contexts all over the NWTC campus.”
Smits noted that Olsen has been invited to participate in the ongoing review of an update to the public assembly policy.
Beyond that statement, Smits declined specifics on the basis of “student confidentiality.”
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