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Local

Federal judge rules against Waubonsee Community College in free speech lawsuit

Anti-gay group sued college

SUGAR GROVE – A federal judge has ruled against Waubonsee Community College after two members of an anti-gay group in July filed a federal lawsuit against WCC, claiming their free speech was violated when they were not allowed to pass out fliers at the college.

Wayne Lela and John McCartney, members of the group Heterosexuals Organized for a Moral Environment, filed the lawsuit in U.S. District Court on July 16. The suit said their right to free speech was violated when they were not allowed to distribute fliers at the college’s Sugar Grove campus last year.

“Allowing plaintiffs to exercise their First Amendment rights on WCC’s campus does not amount to the college endorsing [the] plaintiff’s views or speech,” U.S. District Judge Robert Gettleman wrote in an opinion and order he issued this week. “In fact, as plaintiffs point out, the United States Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights has publicly stated that its policies should not be carried out in ways that impair First Amendment rights.”

Gettleman granted Lela and McCartney’s motion to preliminarily prevent WCC from denying them access to the campus for purposes of leafleting. They now must submit to the court on or before Monday a written proposal for a reasonable time, place and manner for leafleting, according to the order.

Gettleman on Wednesday is set to make a definitive preliminary injunction order. In response, Jim Sibley, WCC’s executive director of marketing and communications, wrote in an emailed statement: “While we await the court’s final determination, we consider this a matter of pending litigation. Waubonsee Community College remains committed to maintaining a nondiscriminatory campus that is not disruptive to our educational mission.”

Whitman Brisky and Noel Sterett of Chicago-based Mauck & Baker LLC are assisting The Rutherford Institute, a nonprofit civil liberties organization, in its defense of Lela and McCartney’s constitutional rights.

“Colleges in America should not be in the business of protecting their students from ideas and suppressing speech,” Brisky said in a news release. “We need more cases and judicial decisions like this to beat back the increasing levels of censorship on our college campuses.”

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