Grand Valley State University – May 30, 2017

Federal lawsuit leads university to revise Free Speech policy

Allendale, MI

A student group called “Turning Point USA at Grand Valley State University” filed a federal lawsuit against university administrators after being told that they could not talk about the First Amendment or write messages on a large beach ball, called the “free speech ball,” when standing outside of designated Free Speech zones, without permission from administrators. The university ultimately settled the lawsuit, agreeing to expand Free Speech zones and adopting a revised campus Free Speech policy.

Key Players

Tyson Langhofer is senior counsel at the Alliance Defending Freedom, a nonprofit organization that assisted in the representation of Turning Point USA at Grand Valley State, as well as the campus group’s two student founders.

Joe Tucker and Tim McKeeby founded Turning Point USA at Grand Valley State and were named plaintiffs in the federal lawsuit against the university.

Further Details

On October 17, 2016, a group of Grand Valley State University (GVSU) students were in the university’s Cook Carillon Tower, a designated Free Speech zone according to university policy. A federal lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Michigan two months later claims that the students were passing around a beach ball they called the “free speech ball” and asking other students to write messages on it. According to the lawsuit, GVSU administrators and police confronted them as they were speaking to other students outside the Student Services Building. Campus police informed them that they would be arrested if they did not stop speaking with other students and distributing copies of the U.S. Constitution outside the school’s two official Free Speech zones.

This incident spurred a student group to sue GVSU in federal court in December 2016. The group, Turning Point USA at Grand Valley State University, was founded by Tucker and McKeeby. It was represented in the lawsuit by Tyson Langhofer, senior counsel at the Alliance Defending Freedom, reports Michigan Live. Turning Point’s suit criticized GVSU’s Free Speech policy for limiting expressive activity to two small “speech zones” amounting to less than a third of an acre in total, or approximately 0.02 percent of the area comprising the campus. It also criticized the university’s Free Speech policy for mandating that students obtain permission from University officials prior to using the zones without establishing any standards according to which permission would be granted or denied.

Outcome

University Settles Federal Lawsuit, Adopts Revised Free Speech Policy

Grand Valley State University reached a settlement with Turning Point USA, announced on March 1, 2017. Under its terms, GVSU adopted a revised Free Speech policy and agreed to pay the legal fees and costs of the plaintiffs, which totaled $11,025, reports Michigan Live. The new “Grounds and Facility Use Policy” permits students to gather, express themselves, and distribute literature throughout the campus as long as the so-called “expressive activity” is lawful and meets 15 other parameters, including not blocking access to campus buildings or obstructing vehicular or pedestrian traffic, reports Michigan Radio.

External References:

GVSU reaches settlement with student group alleging it restricted free speech, Michigan Live

Grand Valley State agrees to settle lawsuit over free speech, Detroit Free Press

GVSU settles lawsuit over campus free speech, Michigan Radio

Turning Point USA at GVSU v. The Trustees of GVSU

Prepared by Ian Prasad Philbrick ‘17

August 22, 2017