A Wisconsin student has sued her college after she was barred from handing out "Jesus Loves You" Bible-themed Valentine's Day cards last February.
"I want to see the school's policies changed so that they align with the Constitution. I want others to know that their constitutional rights and the freedom to speak are protected no matter what point of view they might represent," said Polly Olsen, who filed a lawsuit last week against Northeast Wisconsin Technical College for violating free speech rights.
Olsen says that when she began handing out the "Jesus loves you! Romans 5:8" and "You are cared for! 1 Peter 5:8," cards in February, campus security escorted her to the campus security office after receiving a complaint of "suspicious activity."
The student was then told that others might find her Valentines "offensive," and that she is not allowed to hand out such messages outside of the designated free speech zone.
In the lawsuit, the plaintiff says that the college restricted her ability to hand out cards to a small portion of the campus, with even that requiring prior approval.
"The Defendants unconstitutionally applied these policies to Plaintiff's expressive activities and, unless this court intervenes, will continue to do so," the lawsuit states.
"Moreover, the Defendants applied these unconstitutional restrictions based upon the viewpoint expressed by the Plaintiff. This action seeks declaratory and injunctive relief, damages and attorneys' fees," it adds.
Olsen is being represented by conservative law firm Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty, which argues that the student was effectively barred from handing out the Bible-themed cards on Valentine's Day.
"While NWTC may wish to confine and regulate the free expression of their students, their policy is unconstitutional," Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty President and General Counsel Rick Esenberg declared.
"They cannot put First Amendment rights into a box. We intend to contest NWTC's public assembly policy in federal court to protect the rights of students there and at all public institutions."
Karen Smits, the school's vice president of advancement, separately told Campus Reform that NWTC is "committed to the free exchange of ideas and to maintaining a welcoming and safe environment that promotes student success," however.
Smits added that "free speech is exercised every day in many different contexts all over the NWTC campus" and that the "policy deals with 'public assembly' as the law recognizes that, unlike a public park, not all physical areas of educational institutions are open for 'public assembly.'"
Olsen explained in an interview with Fox News that the tradition of handing out religious-themed hearts is something her mother passed on to her as a child.
"I love my school, but I love freedom and God more," Olsen said.
"Being in America, everyone has the constitutional right to hand out birthday cards, Christmas cards, invitations, notes, Valentines and whatever else they want that is under protected speech without getting approval. This freedom needs to be recognized not only at NWTC, but across the country."
Smits insisted in a statement to Fox News that the Bible theme had nothing to do with the decision to limit Olsen's activities.
"If she wanted to hand out baseball cards, it would be handled the same way. She was stopped because she was 'going into areas unannounced and uninvited that are restricted to staff members and where students are not permitted to walk freely.' She was stopped for disrupting a work area where she did not have business," the college spokeswoman argued.