College Students Arrested for Handing Out Copies of the Constitution, File Lawsuit

Published February 22, 2017

KCC is a public college in southwest Michigan. The plaintiffs, KCC students Michelle Gregoire and Brandon Withers, are members of the Young Americans for Liberty (YAL) organization. The Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), which is representing the students in the federal lawsuit, filed a complaint in January. The arrest occurred in September 2016.

Arrested for Talking

“When [the plaintiffs] tried to distribute pocket-size copies of the United States Constitution in an open, generally accessible area of the campus, … Defendants ordered them to stop because they had not first obtained a permit and because expression was only permitted in one location,” the lawsuit states. “When Mrs. Gregoire, Mr. Withers, and three associates sought to engage interested students in conversation about freedom and liberty on campus, Defendants claimed that they were impeding students’ access to education, even though they were not blocking sidewalks, impeding access to buildings, or pursuing students who were not willing to converse.

“When Plaintiffs politely informed KCC officials that they planned to continue to exercise their First Amendment rights, Defendants arrested Mrs. Gregoire and two of her associates, jailed them, and charged them with trespassing, charges that were quickly dismissed,” the complaint states. “Defendants took these actions because of the content and viewpoint of Plaintiffs’ expression. In taking these actions, they implemented the challenged KCC policies, violated Plaintiffs’ clearly established constitutional rights, and inflicted irreparable injury upon them.”

The suit requests the court rule KCC’s speech policies violate the First and Fourteenth Amendments of the U.S. Constitution.

Such Cases ‘All Too Common’

Travis Barham, legal counsel for ADF, says cases like this one are occurring regularly on college campuses.

“I’ve been litigating cases for years, but this is the first time I’ve heard of students arrested for handing out the Constitution,” Barham said. “While this case is extreme, policies that allow this kind of situation, where students can’t engage in peaceful expression, are becoming, sadly, all too common.”

Trend in ‘Moral Education’

Robert Shibley, executive director of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, says the Kellogg case reflects a trend of administrators reviving an old doctrine in loco parentis. Sixty years ago, Shibley says, a college was expected to protect students as parents would. Schools established curfews and parietal hours (times during which men and women could be in the same dorm rooms).

“For years [since then], the effort to develop moral character has been sidelined, but now the administrators are happy to get into that role again,” Shibley said. “Without admitting it, colleges are again taking up ‘moral education,’ but the morals are different, and too many students seem to accept that paternalism.”

Jane S. Shaw ([email protected]) writes from Raleigh, North Carolina.


Young Americans for Liberty at Kellogg Community College, et al. v. Kellogg Community College, U.S. District Court for the Western District of Michigan, January 18, 2017: