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Student group sues college after president created 'excuse' to take down anti-communism posters

Alejandro Flores
Alejandro Flores, the president of Clovis Community College's chapter of Young Americans for Freedom, holds one of the flyers his group posted on campus that was later removed by school administrators. |

A community college in California is facing a lawsuit for taking down flyers produced by a conservative advocacy group on campus.

The Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression has filed a lawsuit on behalf of students affiliated with Young Americans for Freedom at Clovis Community College in Fresno, California.

At issue is a request by YAF in November 2021 to post anti-communist flyers on campus, which administrators initially agreed to, but then took the posters down about a week later.

FIRE claims that the school's actions violate the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which public colleges and universities like Clovis are bound to abide by. 

In a video posted by FIRE on YouTube last week, the group contends that YAF "had three posters approved by Student Services and then, a week later under orders from Clovis Community College President Dr. Lori Bennett, the posters were taken down." 

"The reason they told us the flyers didn't qualify for being posted was because [they] didn't advertise a club event," said Clovis Community College's YAF President Alejandro Flores.

The Christian Post reached out to Clovis Community College for comment. A response was not received by press time.

The Young America's Foundation, the student group's parent organization, obtained emails via public records request that showed the behind-the-scenes conversations of college officials.

In one email, Clovis President Lori Bennett said, "we will be taking down the posters we discussed today," adding that "if you need a reason," cite the fact that "they aren't club announcements."  

According to FIRE, Clovis did not have a policy on the books that required flyers to be club announcements. The organization accused Bennett of inventing an "excuse to make it seem like her decision had not been based on the students' viewpoint."

"Clovis tried to put up barriers against our ideas because administrators didn't like them," said Flores, one of the student plaintiffs in the lawsuit. "But that's the opposite of what a college should do. Our college should encourage us to discuss and sharpen our ideas, not shut down the conversation."

Additional emails show another administrator was concerned that "there could be some problems with these posters" because "several people ... are very uncomfortable with it, and one person ... said they would file a harassment claim if the posters didn't come down."

Patrick Stumpf, a senior program specialist for student activities at Clovis Community College, proclaimed that he would "gladly take them down." 

Under campus policy, "Groups/individuals/clubs can post up to 25 posters." However, the policy stresses that "posters with inappropriate or [offensive] language or themes are not permitted and will not be approved." 

Stumpf cited the policy and suggested it was "our mistake" to post the flyers.

In a statement, FIRE Attorney Gabe Walters maintained that "Clovis' policy and its application are illegal," vowing that "FIRE won't let them get away with it." 

"Clovis admins 'gladly' removed posters they found offensive, and we're gladly suing them to protect [YAF students'] rights," he added. 

One of the flyers proclaimed "Leftist Ideas: 'Progress' That Always Leads to Death" and cited statistics from The Black Book of Communism showing high death tolls from communist regimes. 

The poster featured a warning to "Let us ever beware the destructive influences and blind arrogance of the left" and included images of skeletons representing the people killed by communism and a masked man holding a gun. 

Another poster featured a headline reading, "The Leftist Lie," accompanied by a quote from Massachusetts Institute of Technology Economics Professor Paul Samuelson asserting, "It is a vulgar mistake to think that most people in Eastern Europe are miserable."

The poster contrasted the statement with "The Truth," recalling how on "November 9, 1989, thousands of Eastern Europeans tore down the Berlin Wall because they wanted freedom."  

"Thousands of East German citizens, sick and tired of decades of insufferable Soviet oppression, hammered away at the Berlin Wall and celebrated its final collapse," a caption accompanying a picture of people tearing down the Berlin Wall stated. Like the other poster, the second flyer also contained a call to "ever beware the destructive influence and blind arrogance of the Left." 

A third poster asked, "Got Milk? Got Bread? Got Blankets? Got Anything?!" and included a picture from the old Soviet Union as the backdrop. The poster queried, "Do we really want government acting as the 'provider,' when it already has been proven government can't even provide the basics?" 

As with the other posters, the flyer also warned about "the destructive influence and blind arrogance of the Left." 

The group attempted to post five pro-life posters a few weeks later, only for the school to inform them that they could only display the posters at a "Free Speech Kiosk."

The pro-life posters featured statements such as "Everyday 2363 lives are lost because of abortion," "Women's rights start in the womb," "Abortion is the leading cause of death," "Life begins at conception" and "Defend human rights." 

"When YAF-Clovis later asked to post pro-life flyers on the day the Supreme Court heard oral argument in Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization, Clovis administrators used President Bennett's excuse to banish the group's flyers from the highly trafficked hallways to a small, outdoor 'free speech kiosk,' on a remote part of campus students rarely visit," a statement from FIRE reads. 

"Clovis' Flyer Policy is an unconstitutional prior restraint on student speech that discriminates based on viewpoint and gives administrators unbridled discretion to prohibit all kinds of protected expression from a forum the school has created for student speech."

Ryan Foley is a reporter for The Christian Post. He can be reached at: ryan.foley@christianpost.com

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