College Prevented Woman From Handing Out Valentine's Day Cards With Bible Verses, Lawsuit Claims

A student at a Wisconsin college has filed a lawsuit against the school after she was barred from passing out Valentine's Day cards with bible verses on them at the campus.

Ally Polly Olsen, a paralegal student at Northeast Wisconsin Technical College (NWTC) in Green Bay, Wisconsin, filed a lawsuit on Tuesday against the school, the members of the school board and five employees. In the suit, she alleged that school policies prevented her from handing out Valentine's Day cards with bible verses on them violated her First and Fourteenth Amendment rights.

In keeping with her mother's tradition, on February 14, Olsen tried to pass out religious-themed Valentine's Day cards on campus, as she has successfully done on several occasions. The cards included verses from the Bible including:

  • John 4:11 "You are special!"
  • John 4:11 "God is love"
  • Romans 5:8 "Jesus loves you"
  • Peter 5:7 "You are loved and cared for!"

The lawsuit stated that everyone was free to decline the card and that the campus's Security Office received a complaint about the cards being passed out. Supervisor Mike Jandrin sent Security Officer Jesse Hagel, both of whom are named as defendants in the suit, was sent to bring Olsen to the office.

Hagel told Olsen that her actions were considered "soliciting," according to the suit, and once at the office, Jandrin explained that some people might find the bible references offensive.

The lawsuit also argued that contrary to Jandrin's statement, Olsen wasn't disturbing anyone's learning or in a space that she was ever told had restricted access for students.

"Ms. Olsen has the right to hand out Valentine's Day cards with Bible references in any area of the NWTC campus where she has the right to be present," the lawsuit stated. "Such conduct is expressive conduct protected by the First Amendment."

bible valentine's day cards college lawsuit
A bible lays opened to the Book of Job as part of a memorial to the victims of the Fort Hood shooting in Texas. On Tuesday, a student sued her college after she was prevented from passing out Valentine's Day cards with Bible verses on them. Eli Meir Kaplan/Getty Images

NWTC told Newsweek that the school strongly supports the free exchange of ideas and encourages free speech, however, it needs to be done in accordance with policy. NWTC explained Olsen being prevented from handing out Valentine's Day cards had nothing to do with the content and everything to do with where she was passing them out.

As part of the school's Public Assembly Policy, there are designated spaces that students can reserve where they're allowed to picket and distribute literature with content only being limited to the confines of the law. The NWTC told Newsweek that other places on campus require students to check in with staff before entering because of the presence of confidential records, which is where the NWTC said Olsen was when she was passing out the cards.

Olsen's lawsuit acknowledged that the school has an official policy regulating where students can distribute literature, but argued that since the school is a public institution, the campus is government property and therefore administrators cannot deem the majority of its campus a non-public forum.

"On its face, the policy is an unconstitutional abridgment of the rights of Plaintiff and other students' freedom of speech under the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution," the lawsuit claimed.

The First Amendment protects a person's right to speak freely and express themselves and the Fourteenth Amendment grants people equal protection under the law.

The lawsuit also criticized the school's policy because it requires students to apply to use the space and be given permission but provides only vague explanations of how approval is granted.

This isn't the first the school is hearing about Olsen's problems with the policy and NWTC told Newsweek that in the spring the school invited her to help shape revisions to the policy.

Along with being allowed to hand out Valentine's Day cards in areas outside of the designated areas, Olsen's lawsuit explained that she would also like to "spontaneously speak on issues occurring in the news or that are otherwise important to her."

Olsen's lawsuit requests that the judge rule the Public Assembly Policy to be an unconstitutional violation of freedom of speech and expression, that the school violated her First Amendment rights and award her an unspecified amount in damages, including her attorneys' fees.