Jones College, former student reach settlement over free speech lawsuit

Jones College, former student reach settlement over free speech lawsuit
Former JC student Michael Brown, along with the campus group Young Americans for Liberty, filed the lawsuit against JC in Sept. 2019. (Source: Gray News)

ELLISVILLE, Miss. (WDAM) - A settlement has been reached in a lawsuit alleging Jones College prevented a former student and campus group from exercising free speech and the freedom to assemble.

According to the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, JC finalized the settlement with former student Michael Brown on Wednesday and will enact policy changes that will protect speech rights for students.

“I am pleased that Jones College was willing to work in good faith to align their policies with the First Amendment rights guaranteed to all of us, especially students on their campus,” said Brown in a news release through FIRE. “Fighting for this reform is important to me because we all must have the ability to speak freely, otherwise how are we any better than other nations and regimes that restrict what their citizens may say?”

Brown, along with the campus group Young Americans for Liberty, filed the suit in Sept. 2019, claiming the school’s policies deny students their First Amendment rights on campus.

Brown claimed the junior college stopped him twice from exercising free speech when he tried to recruit fellow students for the campus’ chapter of YAL in February and April of that year.

Represented by FIRE, a nationwide campus free speech organization, Brown’s lawsuit challenged the college’s speech codes that required administrative approval and a minimum three-day waiting period before “gathering for any purpose” anywhere on campus.

According to FIRE, Jones College agreed to put a policy in place that will let students express themselves without permission as it will adopt language from “Report of the Committee on Freedom of Expression” at the University of Chicago, putting them in company with 77 other institutions in the nation in adopting the principled statement.

The college also agreed to pay $40,000 for attorneys’ fees and damages, a news release from FIRE said.

“We’re proud of Mike for standing up for his rights and the speech rights of all students at Jones College,” said FIRE Director of Litigation Marieke Tuthill Beck-Coon. “At a time when students at 9 in 10 colleges across the country forfeit their rights under unconstitutional speech codes, we commend Jones College for joining the ranks of Chicago Statement institutions committed to providing students ‘the broadest possible latitude to speak.’”

Despite the lawsuit, Brown said he believes JC is a good choice for students who seek an experience they will feel good about.

“I still would recommend Jones College to anyone looking for a positive and interactive educational experience, but now especially since we may speak freely without fear on campus,” Brown said.

WDAM has reached out to Jones College for comment about the settlement and is awaiting a response.

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