Student sues college for evicting her from free speech zone

A student at Paradise Valley Community College is suing over an October incident in which school officials refused to let her hand out literature in the school’s free speech zone.

Brittany Mirelez, a freshman at the Arizona college, had set up a table outside the Student Union—an officially-designated “free speech zone”—on October 7 to distribute literature advocating for free speech and to recruit potential members for a Young Americans for Liberty chapter she was trying to start on campus, only to be evicted by administrators who claimed she had failed to properly comply with PVCC’s burdensome notification process.

Now, The Daily Signal reports, Mirelez has filed a federal lawsuit against PVCC President Dr. Paul Dale and two other officials claiming that the school’s speech policies violate the First Amendment. She is not seeking monetary damages, merely asking that the school cover her legal fees and revise its speech policies.

“Although PVCC encourages free discourse and debate on campus, it uses its Guidelines for Public Expression on Campus (the “Policy”) to restrict student speech to one designated speech zone,” the lawsuit alleges. “PVCC’s Policy prohibits students from speaking outside of the Speech Zone, including on public sidewalks, walkways, lawns, and other outdoor areas.”

Moreover, the filing notes that even within the Speech Zone, the school only allows expressive activities between 9:00 a.m. and 4:00 p.m., and even then requires advance notice of at least 48 hours.

“This action is premised on the United States Constitution and concerns the denial of Mirelez’s fundamental rights to free speech, due process, and equal protection of law,” the document asserts, arguing that the school’s “policy and practices have deprived and will continue to deprive Mirelez of her paramount rights and guarantees under the United States Constitution.”

Video footage of the October altercation, obtained exclusively by Campus Reform, suggests that the school will stand by its policies, to judge from the assertions made by administrators when Mirelez challenged their enforcement of the speech restrictions.

The video begins with a conversation between Mirelez and Mike Ho, Director of Student Life and Leadership at PVCC, who informs her that her group is welcome to use the cafeteria for their activities, “but I can’t give you space out there, just because the City of Phoenix has set aside those spaces for weeks, and we really are only supposed to allow four people—we really made an exception to be able to allow 10 today.”

Ho was referring to a demonstration by Paint Phoenix Purple, a domestic violence awareness campaign sponsored in part by the City of Phoenix.

“That is very much a theme for domestic violence, and we want to keep the theme that,” Ho says, apparently implying that the YAL group’s presence might dilute the optics of the other event. “I can have the same table brought in here for you, though,” he offers, “and you can still take advantage of the crowd that’s in here, but for today that space isn’t available.”

Seeking absolute clarification, Leadership Institute field rep Crystal Albert, who was on hand to assist Mirelez, asks Ho, “So, there’s a free speech zone?”

“There is, yes,” Ho says. “It’s a Maricopa Community College policy; it went into effect about two years ago.”

“Even though it’s a public school?”

“Yeah, and the public school … the public has the right to use this space within a two-day notification period,” Ho asserts. “We don’t regulate the content; we just regulate the time, place, and manner, which is something that the Maricopa colleges have been doing for the last several years.”

Dissatisfied with Ho’s justification for rejecting them, the group ultimately decided to proceed as planned, reasoning that the school’s policies were illegitimate to begin with, at which pointed they were accosted by another, unidentified, official.

“We’re not harming anybody,” Mirelez protests when the administrator informs her that she will have to vacate the area because of the other event.

“Oh, I understand that,” the administrator replies. “I’m just passing on the word here.”

“If you would just let us move our table,” Mirelez submits, “then if they want to come out and talk to us about it, they can.”

That proposal was preempted by the appearance of Ho, to whom the other official deferred for the remainder of the video.

“Can we put [the table] right there?” Mirelez asks Ho, pointing toward an unoccupied space further from the other event.

“That’s not an approved space,” Ho responds.

“Well, even having a free speech zone is unconstitutional, so…”

“That’s not true,” Ho tells her.

“That’s not true?”

“That’s not true.”

When Mirelez asks him why, Ho responds, “Well, because our legal has already pursued this with the Arizona state government, so we already know this is an approved way of going about doing this.

“You can have free speech zones,” he asserts. “This is definitely both an example of allowing free speech, but also doing it within time, place, and manner, and that’s been protected.”

“So clubs aren’t allowed to just set up and …?” Mirelez asks.

“Not without proper notification,” Ho tells her.

“Well I had proper notification,” Mirelez counters, saying she had spoken with another employee in the Student Life office prior to setting up the table.

“You didn’t,” Ho contradicts her. “She [the other employee] told you to fill out the form.”

“She never told me that,” Mirelez states.

After further debate over the matter, Ho says emphatically: “She told me that she told you, so either one of you isn’t telling me the truth.”

As the conversation trails off, Leadership Institute field rep Crystal Albert interjects, saying, “I’m just confused, because this is a public school, right?”

“Right, within guidelines,” Ho replies.

“Wait, that doesn’t make any sense, that this is the freedom of speech zone but you’re trying to move us into a building,” Mirelez complains.

“Well, because you didn’t have notification,” Ho tells her matter-of-factly. “You’re supposed to give two days’ notification, which you would know if you filled out the form.”

Mirelez eventually agreed to move inside the Student Center, but subsequently brought the incident to the attention of the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), which agreed to take her case to court.

“Colleges are supposed to be a place where ideas are freely shared, not gagged or suppressed,” ADF attorney Tyson Langhofer told The Daily Signal. “College really works against its own purpose when it places restrictive speech rules above freedoms that the First Amendment guarantees to students and all other citizens.”

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