Common sense experienced an increasingly rare victory in the courts this week.
Citing the First Amendment, a federal judge in Green Bay sided with a Northeast Wisconsin Technical College student who was told to stop sharing Valentine’s Day cards containing Bible messages like “Jesus Loves You!” and “God is Love!”
Polly Olsen filed a lawsuit against the college last year after a school official told her she was in violation of school policy in distributing the cards, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported. She was told by a security official she was “disturbing the learning environment.”
The 29-year-old woman is studying to become a paralegal and she said the cards with Biblical messages were a family tradition started by her late mother.
“There can be no doubt that in handing out her homemade valentines to her fellow students, friends and staff at NWTC, Olsen was engaged in a constitutionally protected form of expression,” U.S. District Court Chief Judge William C. Griesbach wrote in his decision.
Olsen’s case took on national prominence when President Donald Trump invited her to the White House for being part of a group of college students who “stood up to the forces of political indoctrination.”
Wearing a blue dress, Olsen is seen in the photo below standing behind the president as he signed the executive order directing federal agencies to withhold research grants to colleges and universities if they are determined to have violated free speech laws on their campuses.
She spoke at the event, according to the Journal Sentinel.
“So, freedom of speech is near and dear to my heart. My mother told me, while she was homeschooling me, that I would have to know what my First Amendment rights were because someday they would be violated and I would have to stand up for them,” Olsen said.
Judge Griesbach awarded Olsen damages of $1 and ordered that the school not hide behind policy to prevent other students from handing out similar cards or messages, the newspaper reported.
In his decision, Griesback rejected an attempt by the college to change the policy that was used against Olsen, which would have made her lawsuit unnecessary,
“It is clear from its new policy, as well as its defenses of its actions under its old policy, that NWTC has not and has no intention of ceasing the very behavior that gave rise to Olsen’s lawsuit,” the judge wrote.
Olsen was clear in a statement that the issue was always the right to free speech.
“While this lawsuit was personal, it was never just about me,” Olsen said in a release. “When my First Amendment rights were violated by NWTC, I knew I had to stand up for my rights. With the court’s decision, it is my hope that NWTC and colleges everywhere will work to expand and embrace, not constrict, the First Amendment rights of all students.”
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