President Donald Trump signed an executive order yesterday to attempt to protect free speech on college campuses that accept federal money.
“In America, the very heart of the university’s mission is preparing students for life as citizens in a free society,” Trump said at the White House ceremony. “But even as universities have received billions and billions of dollars from taxpayers, many have become increasingly hostile to free speech and to the First Amendment.”
Among those at the signing was Polly Olson, a student at Northeast Wisconsin Technical College (NWTC), who is suing the university because the campus has banned her from handing out valentines on St. Valentine’s Day with a religious message.
Trump introduced Olson by saying he’d like some of those valentines to hand out, too.
“College officials stopped her and told her that she would be restricted to so-called ‘free speech zone’ because some people might find her cards offensive,” Trump said. “I don’t. I love that card. In fact, Polly, give me some. I’ll send them around to my friends.”
Olson then spoke, explaining why she is suing to protect her First Amendment rights.
“My mother told me while she was homeschooling me that I would need to know what my First Amendment rights were because someday they would be violated and I would have to stand up for them,” Olson said. “So I’m carrying on her legacy of handing out these little valentines encouraging people to know that they are loved and cared for. And within 15 minutes of setting foot on my campus this past year, I was told that I was soliciting and disrupting the learning environment and that it would not be tolerated and that I would have to stop handing out my valentines.”
In 2018, Olsen, was stopped by campus security while handing out religious-themed St. Valentine’s cards with messages like “Jesus Loves You” and “You Are Special.” NWTC said handing out the cards were a violation of the school’s “Public Assembly Policy,” which restricts free speech to a small area on campus and requires a permit from school authorities. Olson is being represented by the Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty (WILL).
“WILL is honored that our client and our fight for free speech will be acknowledged by the President of the United States at the White House,” said Rick Esenberg, the WILL president and general counsel, in a statement Thursday. “This is a big day for our organization and we commend President Trump for making it happen.”
Esenberg explained why his organization has taken on the Olson case.
“College campuses have become the front lines of the fight for free speech and free expression,” Esenberg said. “What were once incubators for original thinking and civil debate, college campuses have become battlegrounds for the future of the First Amendment in America. WILL is committed to the principles of free speech and we pledge to protect the rights of all Americans to freely express themselves.”
Olsen’s complete remarks from the White House transcript, as well as the White House video, are below. Trump introduces Olson at 38:13 into the video.
So freedom of speech is near and dear to my heart. My mother told me while she was homeschooling me that I would need to know what my First Amendment rights were because someday they would be violated and I would have to stand up for them.
So I’m carrying on her legacy of handing out these little valentines encouraging people to know that they are loved and cared for. And within 15 minutes of setting foot on my campus this past year, I was told that I was soliciting and disrupting the learning environment and that it would not be tolerated and that I would have to stop handing out my valentines.
And I contacted some friends of mine and they sent me to WILL to have legal counsel because this wasn’t the first time the school had done it to me. They had stopped me a year — well, a few months after my mom died — and told me that I was not allowed to do it then. So I went through months of trying to get them to change this policy that they were enforcing, and they told me that they would do it. Well, that was five years ago.
So now it was time to take action and make them follow through with what they were telling me that they were going to do — trying to shut me up. I’m just one of many students that are out there that universities and schools are trying to shut down, sweep it under the rug, and make them be quiet.
And I told them I’m not going to be quiet this time. I’m going to talk to anyone and everyone I can about our freedom of speech in this country because it’s really the core of America’s freedom. And without freedom of speech, we don’t have America anymore.
And so I challenge America to learn to love one another as Christ did on the cross for each one of us. And that — speak your differences. It’s okay. We are in a country of freedom. And, really, that’s what’s important — is to embrace the diversity that we have here because that’s made America great in the first place.
And we need to carry on that legacy of protecting freedom of speech on campuses and in our workplaces. People at work should not be afraid to express their beliefs. It’s our right. It’s our freedom. Thank you.