Student Sues After Being Labeled 'Disruptive' for Handing Out 'Jesus Loves You' Valentines

Posted: Sep 10, 2018 2:15 PM

According to Campus Reform, Northeastern Wisconsin Technical College (NWTC) student Polly Olsen is suing the school over what she believes to be an “unconstitutional” Public Assembly Policy.

The lawsuit alleges that on February 14, 2018, Olsen was handing out the valentines when she was confronted by a campus security officer. The officer informed Olsen that she was in violation of NWTC policy by being a “disruptive student”, and “soliciting.”

But the student wasn’t selling anything. She was merely distributing heart-shaped valentines with messages written on them, such as “Jesus loves you”, “you have a purpose”, and “you are special!” The cards also included Biblical references.

Olsen was informed by the security officer that if she wanted to hand out the valentines, she would need to do so in the campus’ “free speech area”, which would necessitate prior reservation and approval. NWTC’s “public assembly area”, which is also known as the “free speech zone”, is available for students to reserve between 8 am and 9 pm.

Students may utilize the reserved space for up to three consecutive days.

But according to Olsen, the free speech zone is no larger than “the size of two buses next to each other”, which means that no one actually “congregates there, they just walk through.” Olsen felt that being restricted to the zone would diminish her ability to have meaningful conversations with her fellow students.

Olsen alleges that she was then escorted by campus security to NWTC’s security office, where she spoke with the supervisor and director of campus security about the situation. She was later labeled as a “disruptive” student.

“NWTC thinks that they have the right to prohibit this freedom,” Olsen told Campus Reform. She went on to add that the school’s position is “unconstitutional, dogmatic, and not what education is about.”

According to the court complaint, filed Tuesday on behalf of Ms. Olsen by the Wisconsin Institute for Liberty and Law (WILL), NWTC’s Public Assembly Policy “is an unconstitutional abridgment of the rights of Plaintiff and other students’ freedom of speech under the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution.”

Vice President of Advancement Karen Smits appeared to defend the school, stating that NWTC is "committed to the free exchange of ideas and to maintaining a welcoming and safe environment that promotes student success.”

“Free speech is exercised every day in many different contexts all over the NWTC campus,” said Smits. She went on to add that the “policy deals with ‘public assembly’ as the law recognizes that--unlike a public park, not all physical areas of educational institutions are open for ‘public assembly.’”

Polly Olsen says the inspiration for handing out the valentines comes from her mother, who wanted to offer hope to those most needing it. Olsen reports that the past few years have been particularly difficult, as her mother passed away, her brother broke his neck, and Olsen herself has been without a home.

“Since my mother’s passing, I have carried on the tradition in her memory.”

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