By Lara Korte, The Kansas City Star
The American Civil Liberties Union of Kansas has filed a lawsuit defending three Kansas State University students who were kicked out of the State Capitol last week after unfurling four “bloody” banners calling for Medicaid expansion.
The ACLU argues that the Statehouse policies regarding assembly and demonstration limit Constitutionally-protected rights to free speech.
The three students, Jonathan Cole, Katie Sullivan and Nathaniel Faflick, are named as plaintiffs in the lawsuit, filed in federal court Thursday morning. It names Secretary of Administration Duane Goossen, Director of Administrative Services Tom Day, and Superintendent of Kansas Highway Patrol as defendants. Kansas Highway Patrol oversees security for the Kansas Statehouse.
The students were escorted out of the building March 27 after they unfurled four banners in the Capitol Rotunda, each targeting a Republican lawmaker for failing to support Medicaid expansion. Senate President Susan Wagle, Senate Majority Leader Jim Denning, House Speaker Ron Ryckman and House Majority Leader Dan Hawkins, were accused of having “blood on their hands,” for failing to act on Medicaid.
Statehouse administration removed the banners, saying the students did not have a permit and violated building policy by hanging them.
According to Day, building policy states “ no banners, signs, exhibits or any other materials will be taped, tacked, nailed, hung or otherwise placed in any manner within the Capitol Complex.”
The scope of the suit goes beyond the banner display, challenging other regulations and requirements. Parties must apply for a permit to demonstrate or protest on Capitol grounds. Applications must be submitted with a $20, non-refundable fee, 10 days in advance, have a legislative sponsor, and be related to a governmental purpose. The Secretary of Administration has final say over approval.
The ACLU argues that these are prior restraints on assembly and speech, and is asking the court to prohibit them.
“This case is about Kansas’s scheme of rules and practices that collectively suppress virtually every method of speech and expression at the Kansas Statehouse building,” the lawsuit said.
The lawsuit also criticized the defendants for retaliating against the students, who it says were involved in a non-disruptive protest. After the banners were removed, Capitol Police escorted the students out of the rotunda and into an office, where the students say they were banned from the premises for one year, without any formal citation or documentation. The ban was lifted less than a day later.
“The chill from being improperly targeted and excessively penalized has made Plaintiffs reticent to return to the Statehouse to participate in protected First Amendment activity,” the lawsuit said.
Day and Goossen did not immediately respond to request for comment. A spokesman for the Kansas Highway Patrol declined to comment on pending legal matters.