Tarrant County College Bans Symbolic 'Empty Holster' Protest
Tarrant County College (TCC) repeatedly violated the constitutional rights of student protesters who intended to participate in the national "Students for Concealed Carry on Campus" protest by wearing empty holsters. The protest, held on college campuses throughout the country, is part of an effort to promote "the legalization of concealed carry by licensed individuals on college campuses." Two years in a row, TCC students were told that they could not wear the holsters anywhere on campus and had to confine all protests to tiny "free speech zones," such as the approximately twelve-foot circle of concrete comprising the "free speech zone" on TCC's South Campus. TCC was the only public school in the country that banned the protest. Ultimately, with the help of FIRE and the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas, the students filed a lawsuit to vindicate their rights and defeat TCC's unconstitutional policies and practices. They won a temporary restraining order in 2009, and TCC amended its policies but failed to properly protect constitutional rights. The plaintiffs amended their complaint, and the case went to a hearing in January 2010. In March 2010, the U.S. District Court upheld the students' right to wear empty holsters as part of their protest—even in classrooms—and ruled that a new TCC ban on "cosponsorship" of campus activities was unconstitutional.
- "FIRE Launches New Video Series With Short Film on Censorship of Gun-Related Speech," June 30, 2010: Today, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) is proud to release a new short film, "Empty Holsters: Gun Speech on America's Campuses," highlighting widespread campus censorship of student speech about guns. The film is the first in a new FIRE series focusing on how colleges and universities across America are preventing students and faculty members from speaking out on the weightiest political issues of the day.
- "Victory for Free Speech on Campus: Federal Court Strikes Down Gun Rights Protest Restrictions at Tarrant County College," March 16, 2010: Late yesterday, in a striking victory for the First Amendment on campus, a federal district court in Texas ruled that a number of restrictions on students' speech at Tarrant County College (TCC) are unconstitutional. In his decision, U.S. District Judge Terry R. Means found that TCC's reliance on a policy prohibiting "disruptive activities" to restrict students Clayton Smith and John Schwertz from holding an "empty holster" protest violated the First Amendment. Smith and Schwertz had turned to FIRE for help.
- "Smith v. Tarrant County College District, No. 4:09-CV-658-Y (N.D. Tex. Mar. 15, 2010)," March 15, 2010
- "Amended Complaint," January 5, 2010
- "Order Granting in Part and Denying in Part Motion for Temporary Restraining Order in Smith v. Tarrant County College District, United States District Court for the Northern District of Texas, Fort Worth Division," November 5, 2009
- "Students File Lawsuit Challenging ‘Free Speech Zone’ After Repeated Censorship of Pro-Gun ‘Empty Holster’ Protest," November 5, 2009: Tarrant County College (TCC) students Clayton Smith and John Schwertz filed suit in federal district court late Tuesday against TCC. The students are seeking a temporary restraining order to prevent TCC from quarantining protected speech to the school's tiny "free speech zone" when they participate in a national "empty holster" protest coordinated by Students for Concealed Carry on Campus (SCCC) that is scheduled for November 9-13. TCC has prohibited students from participating in identical symbolic protests twice in the past two years. The suit was filed by Fort Worth attorney Karin Cagle in cooperation with FIRE and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Texas.
- "Declaration by FIRE's William Creeley in Support of Motion for Temporary Restraining Order against TCC," November 4, 2009
- "Complaint filed in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas, Fort Worth Division," November 3, 2009
- "Episode 116: Adam Kissel on NRA News," June 16, 2008
- "Episode 115: FIRE's Case at Tarrant County College," June 9, 2008
- "Tarrant County College Bans Symbolic ‘Empty Holster' Protest; Banishes Students with Dissenting Opinions to Small Free Speech Zone," May 22, 2008: In a dramatic blow to freedom of expression, Tarrant County College (TCC) has prohibited its students from wearing empty gun holsters to protest policies that forbid students with concealed carry licenses from carrying concealed handguns on campus. A TCC administrator told interested students that they could not wear the holsters and could only conduct a protest in the school's tiny and restrictive free speech zone. TCC student and protest organizer Brett Poulos has turned to FIRE for help.
- "Response from TCC Vice Chancellor for Administration Erma J. Hadley to FIRE, May 20, 2008," May 20, 2008
- "FIRE's Letter to Tarrant County College South Campus President Ernest L. Thomas, April 24, 2008," April 24, 2008
- "E-mail from TCC Vice President for Student Development Juan Garcia to TCC Student Brett Poulos, April 10, 2008," April 10, 2008
- "E-mail from TCC Student Brett Poulos to TCC South Campus President Ernest L. Thomas," March 28, 2008
- "This Month in FIRE History: Tarrant County College Bans Symbolic ‘Empty Holster' Protest," by Bridget Glackin, May 25, 2012
- "Tarrant County College Ordered to Pay $240,000 after Losing Battle against the First Amendment," by William Creeley, October 15, 2010: Attention, college administrators: Attempting to defend your institution's unconstitutional speech code in court is very, very expensive. Unfortunately for Texas taxpayers, Tarrant County College is the latest school to learn this lesson the hard way—about 240,000 times harder than it needed to be.
- "'Star-Telegram' on Tarrant County College Victory," by Adam Kissel, March 25, 2010
- "Win for Free Speech at Tarrant County College Grabbing Headlines," by Peter Bonilla, March 17, 2010
- "Victory for Free Speech on Campus: Federal Court Strikes Down Gun Rights Protest Restrictions at Tarrant County College," by William Creeley, March 16, 2010
- "Judge in Tarrant County College Trial 'Astounded' By Free Speech Restrictions," by William Creeley, January 15, 2010
- "Hearing Today in 'Free Speech Zone' Lawsuit in Texas," by Adam Kissel, January 12, 2010
- "Tarrant County College Update: Empty Holster Protest Held, Trial Delayed," by William Creeley, November 17, 2009
- "Rights in the News: FIRE's Campaigns in Texas, California, and Georgia Get Results," by Peter Bonilla, November 6, 2009
- "Victory for First Amendment on Campus: Federal Court Grants Temporary Restraining Order Against Free Speech Zone, Permitting 'Empty Holster' Protest," by Azhar Majeed, November 6, 2009: In a victory for First Amendment rights on campus, a federal district court in Texas has granted two students at Tarrant County College (TCC) a temporary restraining order prohibiting TCC from censoring an "empty holster" protest scheduled for next week. The court's decision to grant the order came two days after the students filed a motion arguing that by enforcing its "free speech zone" policy to quarantine the protest, TCC would violate the students' First Amendment rights. In issuing the order, the federal court held that the students would suffer "immediate and irreparable injury" if TCC were allowed to restrict the protest event, due to the free speech zone policy's use of a permit system that contains no guidelines or standards for decision-making as well as the lack of access provided to traditional public forums such as sidewalks, streets, and park areas. As a result of this victory, students at Tarrant County College will be able to proceed with next week's protest. A hearing on the students' full lawsuit has been scheduled for November 16.
- "After Two Years of Censorship, Lawsuit Challenges TCC's Free Speech Zone," by William Creeley, November 5, 2009
- "CCAC First Amendment Scandal Earns a Critical Editorial," June 23, 2009
- "Jefferson ‘Muzzle’ Awards for Censorship Given to Two Colleges Involved in FIRE Cases," by Robert Shibley, April 7, 2009
- "‘FIREside Chats’ Episode on Case at Tarrant County College," June 9, 2008
- "FIRE to Discuss ‘Empty Holster Protest’ on NRA Radio Tonight," by Emily Guidry, May 29, 2008
- "Tarrant County College Responds to FIRE," by Emily Guidry, May 27, 2008
- "Media Covers FIRE's Case at Tarrant County College," by Samantha Harris, May 27, 2008
- "Tarrant County College Bans Empty Holster Protest," by Robert Shibley, May 22, 2008
- "Students win right to protest with empty holsters,"
by Staff Editorial, Inside Higher Ed, November 9, 2009
- "College can't restrict empty-holster demonstration,"
by Associated Press, Associated Press, November 6, 2009
- "Community college sued over limits on rallies,"
by Staff Editorial, Inside Higher Ed, November 6, 2009
- "Federal lawsuit filed against TCC's free-speech zones,"
by Bill Hanna, Star-Telegram, November 5, 2009
- "Tarrant County College sued for banning empty holster protest,"
by Brian Thevenot, The Texas Tribune, November 5, 2009
- "Texas students challenge protest restrictions,"
by Jeff Carlton, Associated Press, November 5, 2009
- "Why can't students say 'guns' in school?,"
by Glenn Garvin, Miami Herald, April 21, 2009
- "Controversy continues to surround guns on campus,"
by Joe Murray, The Bulletin, May 27, 2008
- "Student criticizes TCC for banning empty gun holster,"
by John Austin, Fort Worth Star-Telegram, May 23, 2008
- "Student says college violated rights by banning protest,"
by Angela K. Brown, Houston Chronicle, May 23, 2008