Student Story

Beth Sheeran - Freedom of Speech on College Campuses

freedom of speech on college campuses

Beth Sheeran was a nursing student at Spokane Falls Community College in 2008 when she spearheaded an effort by a Christian club on campus to sponsor a pro-life event. She had almost completed the extensive preparations when she learned the college was shutting down the event.  Her determination to know why brought her face-to-face with the sometimes absurd objections of the faculty and administrators (“Washington is a pro-choice state, and we can’t use school grounds for a pro-life display.”) and their very real determination to silence free speech on campus.  She and other club members were threatened with expulsion, should they so much as hand out flyers with pro-life themes.

Realizing that “the abuse of authority would also shut doors to the Gospel,” and worried that fear for their education might keep many Christian students from speaking the truth, Beth reluctantly decided to file a suit against the school district whose policies were being enforced at Spokane Falls and other colleges and universities throughout the area.  Alliance Defending Freedom represented her, and the district soon settled the case, agreeing to change its restrictive speech policies and restore the First Amendment protections of all students.

The Pyramid of Hate in Beth's own words "Our college had recently started a program called “Stop the Hate,” which encourages students to report “bias incidents” on campus to a committee composed of faculty and students  who will investigate what happened and assign the appropriate disciplinary action. Every club member present at the meeting was given a handout on what the school defined a “bias incident” to be, which was " any act of conduct, speech or expression to which a bias motive is evident as a contributing factor regardless of whether the act is criminal.”  We were also given a paper titled “The Pyramid of Hate,” which listed acts of “prejudice” and “hate,” including using “non-inclusive language,” making “insensitive remarks,”  jokes, and stereotyping, which were a few steps away from murder and genocide. We were warned that if we passed out fliers as a club we could possibly be expelled.  Many of the students in our club were in the process of applying to four year universities.  It was not a good time for any of us to risk expulsion, and I took the threat very seriously."

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