Lawsuit filed over "free speech zone"

Posted at 5:21 PM, Sep 05, 2018

A Northeastern Wisconsin Technical College student filed a lawsuit Wednesday, claiming the community college limited her First Amendment rights.

Polly Olsen went around campus on Valentine’s Day and handed out heart-shaped messages with Bible verses on them. Security said what she was doing was a form of solicitation and violates the school's public assembly policy.

NWTC has a policy that only allows students to express their beliefs in one zone on campus. Officials from the school say the zone is in place to let students assemble while also protecting others who want to study in peace.

"Students are paying tuition, but more so they have a passion for learning and they have got a goal of getting their degrees and getting it on time and being able to get out and into the workforce,” explained Karen Smits, the NWTC Vice President of College Advancement. “So, we want to make sure that that learning for all of our students is not impeded.”

Olsen's messages had phrases that read: "You Are Loved" and "Jesus Loves You".

School officials say they do not want to limit freedom of speech they just want to respect the privacy of all its students. Olsen claims the zone is unconstitutional and should be changed.

"I’d like the policy changed, made constitutional, so that all students have the same rights and for our freedom to be accepted and promoted," Olsen said.

Smits also mentioned the school is open to changing the public assembly policy. Olsen and her attorneys filed the lawsuit this morning at the U.S. District Court.

NWTC has not been served yet but they are prepared to take legal counsel on this issue.