Victory for First Amendment: Pittsburgh-Area College Allows Student to Advocate for Concealed Carry on Campus, Abandons Repressive Policy
October 2, 2009
PITTSBURGH, October 2, 2009—After months of national media attention, a student threatened with punishment for attempting to form a gun-rights group at Community College of Allegheny County (CCAC) is finally allowed to distribute pamphlets about the group on campus. The college has also rescinded its unconstitutional policy demanding "prior written approval" for "personal contact with individuals or groups related to non-sponsored college material or events." After Christine Brashier, who wanted to form a chapter of Students for Concealed Carry on Campus (SCCC), was told that her pamphlets were unacceptable "solicitation" and that any further efforts would be considered "academic misconduct," she turned to the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) for help.
"We are pleased that CCAC has finally given its students the right to encourage one another to band together for causes they believe in," FIRE President Greg Lukianoff said. "This is another example of how just one college student standing up for her rights can help bring liberty to her entire campus."
In April, Brashier created pamphlets to distribute to her classmates encouraging them to join her in forming a chapter of the SCCC national organization at CCAC. Her pamphlets stated that the group "supports the legalization of concealed carry by licensed individuals on college campuses." She personally distributed copies of the pamphlets, which identified her as a "Campus Leader" of the effort to start the chapter.
Brashier was quickly summoned to a meeting with administrators, who told her that passing out her non-commercial pamphlets was prohibited as "solicitation." Furthermore, they insisted that the college pre-approve any pamphlets, that pamphlets like hers would not be approved, and that Brashier destroy all copies of her pamphlet. At one point during the meeting, Dean Yvonne Burns reportedly said, "You may want to discuss this topic but the college does not, and you cannot make us." Brashier was warned that any further efforts would be considered "academic misconduct."
FIRE wrote CCAC President Alex Johnson on April 29 about these violations of Brashier's First Amendment speech and association rights, pointing out that her speech in no way constituted solicitation, that CCAC may not condition approval of literature on its viewpoint or content, and that if CCAC recognizes student organizations at all, it must recognize an organization that supports concealed carry on campus.
After FIRE took Brashier's case public in May, generating national news coverage, CCAC attorney Mike Adams finally replied to FIRE. Adams assured FIRE that Brashier did not face any disciplinary action and that she did have the right to try to form a SCCC group, but he reported that CCAC would not budge from its unconstitutional policy of prior review of materials.
"The college's demand for a government veto over privately produced handbills could never withstand First Amendment scrutiny," FIRE Vice President Robert Shibley said. "Fortunately, through FIRE's advocacy and the hard work of an attorney from FIRE's Legal Network, the college has completely rescinded its policy."
Michael J. Rinaldi, a FIRE Legal Network attorney in the Commercial Litigation Practice Group at Drinker Biddle & Reath LLP in Philadelphia, represented Brashier. Rinaldi successfully pressed CCAC to allow not only Brashier but all CCAC students to exercise their fundamental rights on campus.
FIRE is a nonprofit educational foundation that unites civil rights and civil liberties leaders, scholars, journalists, and public intellectuals from across the political and ideological spectrum on behalf of individual rights, due process, freedom of expression, academic freedom, and rights of conscience at our nation's colleges and universities. FIRE's efforts to preserve liberty on campuses across America are described at thefire.org.