A Michigan college said it would change its speech policy Wednesday after a conservative campus group sued, saying it was silenced after praising fossil fuels.
Macomb Community College (MCC) is a school of about 23,000 students in Warren, Mich., about 15 miles north of Detroit. In April, members of a campus chapter of Turning Point USA — a conservative organization whose website says it promotes “the principles of freedom, free markets and limited government” — wanted to tell students about the importance of fossil fuels. One member even donned a Tyrannosaurus rex costume for the occasion.
But while pointing out “the value of fossil fuels to human flourishing currently outweighs environmental concerns,” Turning Point was shut down by campus police “because at MCC public expressive activity is strictly prohibited without prior permission and a permit from the administration,” according to a federal lawsuit Turning Point filed against the school in August in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan.
“Public colleges, far from being immune to the obligations of the First Amendment, are supposed to be ‘the marketplace of ideas,’ where students can freely exchange ideas with one another, learning how to respectfully debate and dialogue with those whose views differ from their own,” the suit said.
On Wednesday, the college announced it would change its “expressive activity policy,” and the lawsuit would be dismissed.
“The new policy will no longer require students, in most cases, to seek prior approval for engaging in expressive activity on the college’s campuses,” Macomb Community College spokeswoman Jeanne Nicol wrote in an email. “Macomb Community College is a strong proponent of free speech, committed to balancing the First Amendment rights of individuals with the safety and security of students, staff and visitors.”
Nicol added: “Both the college’s original policy and new policy do not take into consideration the content of the speech.”
Turning Point was represented by the Alliance Defending Freedom, an Arizona-based Christian legal organization labeled a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center. It routinely advocates for conservative students in free-speech cases, working with campus Republicans in Illinois who claimed free speech was limited to “0.0013 percent” of the campus in a federal lawsuit last month, and representing two teenage antiabortion protesters who were confronted by an assistant principal outside Philadelphia earlier this year.
In a pending Supreme Court case, the group also represents a baker in Denver who refused to sell a cake to a gay couple.
The settlement came days after the Trump administration released a dire report linking human activity to climate change, and as appearances by conservatives and white nationalists such as Richard Spencer inflame college campuses.
Alliance Defending Freedom attorney Caleb Dalton said the Southern Poverty Law Center was “long discredited,” and that free speech on campus benefits everyone, no matter their politics.
“We believe that free speech is for everybody, whether you agree or oppose our beliefs,” he said. “Free speech on campus is a no-brainer. The only permit you need is the First Amendment.”