The Justice Department on Monday issued a statement of interest in support of a former college student, who sued his school over speech codes denying students their First Amendment rights on campus.
Mike Brown, with the conservative student group Young Americans for Liberty, filed a lawsuit this September against Jones County Junior College (JCJC) in Ellisville, Mississippi, on the ground of First Amendment.
Brown’s lawsuit alleged that the public Mississippi institution, citing a policy requiring school administrators to pre-approve all “meetings or gatherings” at least three days before any event for any purpose anywhere on campus, called in campus police twice to stop Brown from exercising his right to freedom of speech when he tried to recruit new members for a campus chapter of Young Americans for Liberty.
In a 14-page statement of interest filed in federal court, the Justice Department proclaimed that JCJC, as a public
institution of higher education, failed to meet its obligation to comply with the First Amendment.
“JCJC’s speech policies do not pass First Amendment muster in at least two major respects,” the Department wrote in its legal filing (pdf). “They operate as a prior restraint on all student speech and contain no exception for individuals or small groups; and they further grant school officials unbridled discretion to determine which students may speak, and about what they might speak.”
The Department described the JCJC’s “extreme preconditions to speech” as something that would happen under the rule of Oceania, an abusive superstate depicted in George Orwell’s dystopian novel “1984.”
Assistant Attorney General Eric Dreiband, who works in the Department’s Civil Rights Division, denounced the Mississippi school’s policies, saying “the United States of America is not a police state.”
“Repressive speech codes are the indecent hallmark of despotic, totalitarian regimes,” said Dreiband in a press release. “They have absolutely no place in our country, and the First Amendment outlaws all tyrannical policies, practices, and acts that abridge the freedom of speech.”
Mike Hurst, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of Mississippi, added that “unconstitutional restrictions on our first freedoms to speak and assemble directly threaten our liberty as Americans.”
“While some may disagree with the content of one’s speech, we should all be fighting for everyone’s Constitutional right to speak,” said Hurst. “I pray JCJC will do the right thing, change its policies to comply with the U.S. Constitution, and encourage its students to speak and assemble throughout our free state.”