ACLU Wants “Gag Order” on College Trustees Ended

April 19, 2005

DETROIT — A lawsuit was filed in federal court by the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan on behalf of a St. Clair County Community College Trustee after the Board adopted a “gag order” prohibiting board members from talking to students, faculty and employees without first obtaining clearance from the College President.

Thomas A. Hamilton, of Port Huron, Michigan, has served as an elected member of the Board of Trustees of St. Clair County Community College for thirty-four years and chaired the Board at one time.  Hamilton is a retired educator, having taught at both the high school and college levels.  He is also a former student of the community college.

Prior to the adoption of the Code of Ethics in November, 2004, Mr. Hamilton has been open and accessible to members of the College community as a Trustee, including a retirees’ group at which he frequently spoke about College affairs. 

“Publicly elected officials have an inherent responsibility to the voters who elect them,” said Hamilton.  “The purpose of this lawsuit is so that I can continue to honor that responsibility, not avoid it.” 

Since the Code was adopted, Hamilton has not made any presentations at the retiree group meetings and has refrained from entering into discussions about matters relating to the College when faculty members or students have approached him on campus out of fear that he will be found to have violated the Code.  Mr. Hamilton also declined to attend a meeting of College students and the College’s architects regarding proposed renovations to campus buildings.

"The gag order on Mr. Hamilton and other Board members has a chilling effect on both free speech and association,” said Andrew Nickelhoff, the ACLU cooperating attorney working on the lawsuit.  "A community college should be a place where ideas are freely exchanged, not rigidly controlled by restrictive rules."

The ACLU is asking the Court to declare the Code unconstitutional and to have it rescinded for violating the free speech and freedom of association rights of the elected members of the Board of Trustees.

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