On Thursday August 3rd 2023, the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ruled that Clovis Community College must abandon the unconstitutional flyer policy it used to silence conservative students.
In October 2022, the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression secured a preliminary injunction on behalf of the Clovis student chapter of Young Americans for Freedom and its student board members, who wanted to post conservative flyers on the college’s bulletin boards. Clovis Community College asked the Ninth Circuit to overturn the preliminary injunction.
The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals has resoundingly rejected Clovis’ appeal.
“Clovis tried again to justify its censorship, but the court saw through its flawed arguments,” said FIRE attorney Daniel Ortner. “The panel’s decision shows what we’ve argued all along: Clovis’ flyer policy is overbroad, vague, and indefensible in a court of law.”
Clovis’ flyer policy prohibited students from posting flyers that contained “inappropriate” or “offensive” language, effectively giving Clovis administrators free reign to remove any flyers they disliked.
The Ninth Circuit Court wrote, “What is ‘inappropriate’ or ‘offensive’ is a subjective determination, which would vary based on a college administrator’s personal beliefs.”
In November 2021, YAF-Clovis founder Alejandro Flores and fellow club members Daniel Flores and Juliette Colunga (in photo above) received permission from administrators to hang three flyers on bulletin boards inside Clovis Community College academic buildings. The flyers advocated for freedom and listed the death tolls of communist regimes.
Emails obtained via a public records request revealed that soon after the flyers went up, a Clovis administrator wrote that he would “gladly” take the flyers down, following complaints about their content. The administrator also wrote that approving the flyers in the first place may have been a “mistake,” and that Clovis Community College instead should have censored them under a policy that states, “Posters with inappropriate or offense [sic] language or themes are not permitted and will not be approved.”
On Nov. 12th 2021, Clovis President Lori Bennett personally ordered the flyers removed. After doing so, she searched for a reason to justify the viewpoint discrimination, inventing a brand new rule requiring flyers to double as club announcements.
“If you need a reason, you can let them know that [we] agreed they aren’t club announcements,” Bennett wrote to Clovis staff. Clovis does not have a policy on the books that requires flyers to be club announcements. But with this excuse in hand, Clovis employees told student workers to remove the flyers.
Administrators later used that pretextual justification to stop the students from hanging a new set of five pro-life flyers — which the students submitted for approval in December of 2021 — on the bulletin boards inside heavily trafficked campus buildings. Instead, administrators banished the flyers to a rotting “free speech kiosk” in a desolate part of campus.
FIRE filed the lawsuit on Aug. 11, 2022, aiming to hold the college president and three other administrators responsible. After FIRE secured a preliminary injunction halting enforcement of the policy in October of 2022, Clovis Community College appealed the ruling to the Ninth Circuit, and has lost that appeal.
Young Americans for Freedom at Clovis Community College in California. YAF-Clovis founder Alejandro Flores and fellow club members Daniel Flores and Juliette Colunga.
Photo courtesy of the Foundation For Individual Rights and Expression, Philadelphia PA