Students Told They Have to Get Permission From University to Hand Out Free Constitutions on Public Property

Just minutes after students with Young Americans for Liberty started to set up to hand out free U.S. Constitutions to student passersby, a school administrator told them that they had to obtain permission from the university in order to do what they’re doing. The University of Akron in Ohio is a public university, paid for by taxpayer dollars. Despite this, the school’s solicitation policy dictates that groups – whether they’re comprised of university students or people not affiliated with the university – have to apply for a permit from the school before they can organize on campus grounds. From Campus Reform:

Anthony Palumbo, a first-year law student at the university, told Campus Reform that within about five minutes of the group beginning to set up pro-liberty and free-market themed signs, a university official arrived and ordered them to disperse.

The unnamed official identified herself only as “a university employee” in a cell phone video of the the incident that was provided to Campus Reform.

“Hello, I work at the university. Let me just give you the low down about what you’re allowed to do when it comes to ‘solicitation’ on a college campus. This is a public space, but within our confines we are allowed to choose what can be here, and we do that through a process of applying to be in the public space,” the employee said.

After the students conceded that they did not have a form giving them permission to hold their event on campus property, they were told, “there is a system through which you can absolutely do all of this. Absolutely. But you have to go through the university policy.”

When asked if there is a reason that students should need permission to demonstrate on campus, the employee responded, “[y]es, there is. So, anybody from a student organization wants to be out on the ground…It’s known as a reservation. They’re not going to deny you, sir; I guarantee you.”

The employee then proceeded to instruct the students on the process for an external organization to reserve space on campus, pointing out that, “[p]eople who hand out Bibles will be here on Tuesday. That organization, which is a long-time partner of the institution, is an external men’s group, and they come in every year and fill out the form, and they stand at every entrance across campus and hand out Bibles.”

Even though the YAL group was composed of University of Akron students, the employee told them they are still considered an external group because they are not a registered student organization.

The school employee pointed out that if this same group of students congregated at Wendy’s, they’d be kicked out for trespassing. But this is very different, because Wendy’s is a private-owned business. This group would be handing out literature on private property. The group would be at the mercy of the owner of the property. If the owner didn’t want them there, he could instruct them to leave, and if they refused, he could get the police involved to get them off his property. He could also allow them to do what they were doing if it didn’t bother him.

The University of Akron is a public university. It sits on public property. The university isn’t in a position to tell a group of students not to assemble in a public space, especially since the group wasn’t disrupting anything. People can demonstrate and protest outside a state Capitol building, based on First Amendment grounds. It should be no different at a public university.