Dear College Officials: Apply the Constitution

We have another case of free speech rights being restricted on a campus by academic officials who need a course in constitutional protections.


Sinclair Community College has banned a student from distributing literature about abortion, birth control, and breast cancer to her classmates after class. The college also bans all distribution of literature on vast areas of campus. Student Ethel Borel-Donohue, who never disrupted class with her literature, came to the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) for help.

“The right to distribute literature about controversial topics is one of Americans’ most hallowed rights,” FIRE President Greg Lukianoff said. “If someone’s claim to be offended by speech were all it took to overrule the First Amendment, we would all be reduced to silence. Thankfully the Constitution does not recognize a ‘right not to be offended.’”

That’s the money line in this story.

On February 22, FIRE sent a letter to SCC President Steven Lee Johnson, making clear that “while SCC instructors may limit the expression of students during class time in the service of SCC’s educational mission, such narrowly tailored restrictions for instructional purposes cannot lawfully be extended to restrict all distribution of literature outside of class time.” In a 1979 decision…a federal district court in Solid Rock Foundation v. Ohio State University fully explained that absent “material disruption” or “substantial disorder,” the distribution of literature on campus is student expression protected by the First Amendment, even if students complain about the content of the message distributed.

Again…we have no right not to be offended. However, the school defended their restriction of free speech rights.


FIRE wrote Johnson a second letter on March 23, copying Ohio Governor John R. Kasich and Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine. FIRE asked Johnson to bring SCC’s policies into compliance with the First Amendment and to reply by March 30, but SCC has not responded.

At a loss for words.


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