A student at a Wisconsin community college was stopped by school officials when she tried to hand out “Jesus Loves You” valentines on campus.
According to a report from The College Fix, a 29-year-old from Wisconsin claims that school officials at Northeast Wisconsin Technical College interrupted her decade-long practice of handing at “Jesus Loves You” valentines. According to a lawsuit filed by Olsen, the college has a tiny “free speech zone,” a practice that has been outlawed by various states. Campuses that have “free speech zones” ask students to restrict their political and partisan speech to certain predefined areas on campus.
Olsen has been handing out Valentine’s Day cards on campus for ten years. The cards contain different phrases such as “Smile, God loves you! John 3:16,” “You are beautiful! Romans 5:8” and “Jesus Loves You!” This year, campus security approached her and told her that she wasn’t allowed to hand out Valentine’s on campus.
“The first time I was stopped and told that it was because of the content of my valentines that I was not allowed to hand them out by the supervisor of security,” she said. “Then they passed me around the school from person to person and no one wanted to deal with the issue of discrimination.”
In a lengthy statement, the college said that Olsen’s religious beliefs had nothing to do with their decision to shut down her Valentine’s Day tradition. They highlighted their “free speech zone,” where individuals are invited to express themselves.
Religious beliefs are not relevant to this incident. We have clubs and activities around a variety of beliefs and experiences, from Intervarsity Christian Fellowship to advanced manufacturing to enrolling at college after age 50. The student was stopped by Security in an area that is not for the public. Had she been holding anything else—or nothing—she would still have prompted a call to Security.
NWTC recognizes the First Amendment rights of all individuals, including freedom of speech, freedom of expression and public assembly. NWTC also recognizes its responsibility to provide a secure learning environment that allows individuals to express their views in ways that do not disrupt the operation of the College (e.g., picketing or mass distribution of materials).
The Public Assembly Policy establishes space at NWTC where picketing and mass distribution of literature can occur freely without interfering with students and the business operation of the College. This does not limit what participants can say or distribute (within legal limits). The law recognizes that, unlike a public park, not all physical areas of educational institutions can be open for public assembly. The Public Assembly Policy provides a process that allows students and non-students to reserve this space.