Henry Ford Community College Gets 'Yellow Light' Rating for Speech Code

Permits required for events, 'no matter how small'

Henry Ford Community College’s speech code requiring students to obtain permits for expression would warrant a yellow-light rating for being unreasonably restrictive of free expression if it were included in a database maintained by a leading civil liberties group.

Michigan Capitol Confidential asked FIRE, the civil liberties organization that defends free speech on college campuses, about the speech codes of several community colleges in Michigan. FIRE reviewed the speech codes of several community colleges in the state, but since its Spotlight Speech Codes Database only includes four-year institutions, its review of Henry Ford is unofficial.

The college’s speech code requires that students get a permit before engaging in “expressive activities,” something FIRE says may restrict students from forming spontaneous demonstrations. The college also requires student groups to use designated areas for expression.

“Persons, groups or organizations using designated areas for ‘expressive activities,’ the primary purpose of which is not the sale of a product or service, must schedule their activities consistently within the normal business hours of the College (currently BAM — 4:30PM) or other hours with authorization,” the college’s policy says.

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“Persons, groups, or organizations must secure a permit from Buildings and Grounds before engaging in ‘expressive activities,’” the policy also states.

Laura Beltz, a program officer for FIRE, said the college would receive a yellow-light rating if it were included in the Spotlight database.

“Henry Ford's policy requires that students secure a permit before engaging in expressive activities, preventing students from engaging in spontaneous demonstrations, no matter how small and peaceful they may be,” she said in an email.

The college approves three locations on campus for “expressive activities”: the quadrangle; grassy areas near the campus’s entrances; and the grassy areas near an administrative and conference center.

“Further, the policy limits demonstrations to just three areas on campus, rather than all publicly available outdoor space,” Beltz added. “Depending on the size of these areas, this provision may also be unreasonable.”

Henry Ford spokesman Gary Erwin said he referred FIRE’s comments to the college’s legal office for comment. The legal office has yet to respond.

Michigan Capitol Confidential previously reported that Macomb Community College would also have earned a yellow-light rating if it were included in the Spotlight database for requiring students to schedule expressive activity.

Kellogg Community College was sued in federal court in January for allegedly violating students’ free speech rights after they were arrested and jailed for refusing to stop handing out U.S. Constitutions on campus.

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