October 23, 2013 at 5:35 PM
ACLU: Seattle college’s proposed free-speech rule unconstitutional
The American Civil Liberties Union of Washington (ACLU) says portions of a proposed new rule to regulate free speech on Seattle Community College District campuses is unconstitutional.
The Seattle college district – composed of North Seattle, South Seattle and Seattle Central community colleges – has been working on a new free speech regulation in the wake of the Occupy Seattle protests in fall 2011.
The trustees scrapped an earlier rule proposal after the ACLU said it was too broad, and student leaders and faculty members sharply criticized it.
Since that time, a task force has been meeting to draft a new rule, and held a hearing Tuesday on the proposal.
Don Bissonette, a faculty member who teaches English language learners and is a member of the task force that rewrote the regulation, said the committee didn’t share the ACLU’s concerns about the constitutionality of the rule. He said the committee’s focus was to write a regulation that prevented people from camping on campus, and the new regulation does that.
In an Oct. 21 letter to the college district’s Board of Trustees, ACLU attorney La Rond Baker took issue with the most recent proposal because it requires people and groups not affiliated with the college to sign in and provide a name before exercising free speech.
The rule “triggers constitutional concerns because it requires registration prior to engaging in the most basic and treasured form of protected political speech (i.e. flyering, handbilling, pamphleteering, proselytizing, etc.),” the letter says. That requirement would violate both the First Amendment and Washington’s constitution, according to the ACLU.
The proposal also runs afoul of free-speech protections because it requires groups not affiliated with the college to register only when a college administrator requests that they do so, the ACLU letter says. According to the ACLU, the rule is “an unfettered grant of discretion that allows the college to arbitrarily determine which groups will be subjected to prior restraint.”
That increases the chance that a group with an unpopular message will be required to register, a practice that’s forbidden by the First Amendment, the ACLU says.
Bissonnette said the committee “didn’t that that was really too egregious” to ask people to sign in before protesting. “I’m a member of the ACLU, and personally I don’t have a problem, and the committee didn’t have a big problem” with that part of the rule, he said.
College spokeswoman Patricia Paquette said that the ACLU’s comments would be considered and addressed in the next few weeks. The proposal will go to the school’s Board of Trustees Dec. 5 for a second reading and vote.
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The Today File is a general news blog featuring real-time coverage of Seattle and the Northwest. It is reported by the news staff of The Seattle Times and edited by Assistant Metro Editor Nick Provenza.
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