I am a student at a local community college that is, to my knowledge, owned and operated by the county's department of education. One day, the student organization was hosting a barbecue. Student elections were coming up, and a friend of mine was running. I saw him at the barbecue distributing his "vote for me" cards. A barbecue worker reminded him "this is an (college initials withheld) event".

Suppose I were to volunteer to distribute these cards in exchange for nothing. Could the college go after me for distributing these fliers during the barbecue? Also, can the college actually do anything to my friend for distributing, or causing to be distributed, such cards during the event?

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    I do not understand the significance of the barbecue worker reminding the student that the event was a college event. Was the student violating some rule? Are we supposed to know what the rule was? – phoog Dec 21 '15 at 20:21
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    What are the by-laws of the organization that your friend was running for? Do they place any restrictions on campaigning? – user248 Dec 21 '15 at 20:22
  • The "worker" at the barbecue who admonished the student is the idiot here. It's possible that distributing "vote for Bernie" stickers might be in some universe actionable, but objecting to distributing leaflets pertaining to a school election, during a school event, is essentially ludicrous, and shows a fundamental misunderstanding of the basic fabric of human interaction (which is not uncommon.) – dwoz Dec 22 '15 at 1:55
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    Where would one campaign for a school elections if not at school functions? – Scott Dec 22 '15 at 2:01
  • Why "at any time" in the title when this occurred at a social event? "At any time" is overly broad and would include interrupting professors during class, graduation ceremonies, presentations by distinguished guest speakers, etc. – Technophile Dec 11 '20 at 23:26

Almost no constitutional right, for the most part, applies or gives rise to an all-encompassing right at all times. Schools can determine that certain times are off limits as activity during those times may interrupt the environment most conducive to learning, or for other articulable reasons; this is fine so long as it is applied evenly. Schools may say you may not hand out literature at certain times, only before or after classes, weekends, or put limits on the place or manner of distribution.

There are examples of this premise that exist, pertaining to nearly every right, otherwise considered absolute. This is no different than the principle that while Americans enjoy the right to free speech, not all speech is protected at all times, or that the right to bear arms does not apply to all people, places, or environs.


At first blush, this seems like a first amendment issue.

However, the first amendment applies to and constricts public bodies.

Private organizations AFAIK can prohibit by policy behavior they consider disruptive or inappropriate.

I think the answer to your question will lie in whatever college policies govern the barbecue activities. You should ask the worker to point you to the policies prohibiting the distribution of flyers and take it from there.

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    Most community colleges are public bodies, aren't they? – phoog Dec 22 '15 at 1:47
  • @phoog: By public bodies I meant legislatures, regulatory bodies and public institutions. So maybe. But it's not clear from the question that the community college is the only entity from which the objection could come. For example, there is the student organization and the venue of the barbecue event itself. Each of which could be private and have its own set of policies. – Alexanne Senger Dec 22 '15 at 1:55
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    As I understand it, public elementary and secondary schools (and the eternal school prayer issue) are subject to the first amendment because the schools are government bodies. Also, public universities are subject to the constitution in ways private universities are not. I presume the same would be true of community colleges. – phoog Dec 22 '15 at 2:10
  • @phoog: Maybe. But the question introduces the potential for at least two private bodies to be involved: the student organization and the event (barbecue) venue. If you argue the student organization of a public school must be a public organization, I say not necessarily. Why should an association of private individuals necessarily be public just because their common interest happens to be public? For example, the union of public school teachers is a private organization even though the public schools which employ them are public. – Alexanne Senger Dec 22 '15 at 2:29
  • @Alex Student governments are generally sponsored and organized by the school, and when the school is "public" in the sense of being governmentally funded and run, a student government will be considered a governmental subdivision, and in the US are subject to first amendment limitations. If the BBQ is a "college event" then its orgsnizers are subject to the same restrictions as the college..College policies will still be highly relevant, however. – David Siegel Jan 6 at 18:53

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