Traverse City Record-Eagle

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May 3, 2013

'Campus expression' policy: Is it enforceable?

TRAVERSE CITY — A new policy at Northwestern Michigan College requires petitioners and demonstrators to limit activities to a designated “free speech area,” but police enforcement is questionable.

“A college could dream up any policy they want, and I’m not going to, that’s not what I follow,” said Grand Traverse County Prosecutor Bob Cooney. “Our purpose with law enforcement is to keep the peace, protect the safety of a person, and enforce state law. … It would be a very, very rare situation for the police to get involved.”

Classrooms have special protections, Cooney added.

The recently approved “campus expression” policy” is intended to ensure visitors and students can move freely through campus, but not to restrict speech, NMC spokesman Andy Dolan said.

The new policy could get put to the test at NMC’s upcoming barbecue, a fundraiser that typically attracts petitioners and demonstrators.

Bill Wiesner said he again plans to carry a sign that protests homosexuality, as he did at last year’s event. He doesn’t anticipate problems because he stands on a sidewalk.

“It’s public property,” he said.

He believes he should be allowed to distribute gospel tracts anywhere on campus, but agrees classrooms should be off-limits.

Professional petitioner Dennis Rodzik prompted the new policy. Last year, he located himself at a pedestrian “choke point” in a courtyard, but never approached anyone in the food line.

“Number one, it’s rude. They’re trying to enjoy a meal,” he said.

Police threatened to arrest him, but Rodzik argued his First Amendment right to petition, went to his car, called police administrators, and was allowed to return.

“The courts say, as long as you’re not blocking an exit or entrance, if you’re not being disruptive, you have a right to be there,” Rodzik said.

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