On Wednesday the North Idaho College’s (NIC) board of trustees voted unanimously to give the administration at the Coeur d’Alene junior college control on “free speech activities.” Such activities include speeches, picketing and leafleting.

NIC’s decision to create a policy, called the “Time, Place and Manner Policy,” stemmed from a demonstration from the controversial Westboro Baptist Church last fall. The church came to campus to protest a performance of “The Laramie Project.” The play is about Matthew Shepard, who was murdered just outside of Laramie, Wyo., because of his sexual orientation.

The church, from Topeka, Kan., has gained notoriety for picketing military funerals claiming soldiers’ deaths are divine punishment on the nation for tolerating homosexuality.

John Martin, vice president for community relations and marketing at NIC, said the policy was created for safety reasons and to allow students to get to their classes. “The policy is to keep the campus safe and undisrupted when demonstrations are taking place. When Westboro Baptist Church visited us this last year we did not have a policy in place to say ‘OK, you’re welcome on our campus and we believe in the First Amendment right to free speech.’ However, we don’t believe groups that are demonstrating or exercising their right to free speech have the right to impede traffic or to disrupt classes or things of that nature.”

Martin also said having the policy in place allows the college to let demonstrations take place, and still allow students to get to their classes and get an education. The policy forbids demonstrations that impede driving or walking on campus; disrupt regular or authorized activities on NIC’s grounds of facilities including classrooms, offices and laboratories; are conducted within 20 feet of all exits, entrances, staircases, parking lots and roadways; and are conducted at a volume that disrupts the normal use of classrooms, offices and labs.

The policy gives administrators authority to restrict use of the zone to meet traffic or public transit needs. Demonstrators would have to give campus safety officials a 48-hour notice, and violators could be subject to campus disciplinary actions or criminal trespass charges.

NIC is not the only college to have a “free speech” policy. Martin said that several policies from other colleges and universities were looked at before creating the policy at NIC.

In fact, the biggest college in the state, Boise State University, has had a policy in place since 2001 that includes free speech activities. It calls the policy its Open Spaces Use policy. In the policy five areas are designated for such purposes. BSU allows picketing and carrying of placards in those five areas and any public areas on campus.

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