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Posted on Thu, Mar 10, 2011 : 12:35 p.m.

ACLU of Michigan invokes Westboro Baptist Church ruling in letter that urges specific revisions to University of Michigan policy

By Juliana Keeping

Referencing the Supreme Court’s recent decision to uphold the free speech rights of Westboro Baptist Church members, the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan has encouraged the University of Michigan to implement a new trespass policy that protects individual rights, especially free speech.

The ACLU first raised concerns over the policy after an Oct. 24 report highlighted the university’s banishment of Andrew Shirvell, the former state assistant attorney general, and others, from the 3,300-acre campus. Shirvell, a Michigan alumnus, had, for months, protested what he deemed the “radical homosexual agenda” of the school’s openly gay student body president, including a one-man, late-night protest on the sidewalk outside of the student’s off-campus home in Ann Arbor. Campus police initially banned him for life.

In its March 2 8-1 ruling in Snyder v. Phelps, the Supreme Court set the bar high for what constitutes as disruptive speech that can be regulated, the letter notes, affirming Westboro members right to hold signs on sidewalks such as “Thank G-d for dead soldiers” outside of funerals.

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Andrew Shirvell.

Invoking the court’s decision as it relates to the banishment of Shirvell, the ACLU letter to Michigan President Mary Sue Coleman says the country has chosen “to protect even hurtful speech on public issues to ensure we do not stifle public debate.”

Subsequent documents and interviews obtained by showed the university has banned roughly 2,050 individuals for life from the public campus in the last decade without apprising any of those individuals with a written reason why they were banned. Those banned include individuals charged with crimes or those who had been in university buildings after hours, but also staff, alumni and students, such as an Indiana doctor and alumnus who received a life-long ban from his alma mater after shouting at other fans over seating during a football game.

Under the current policy, only the chief of police can appeal a “trespass warning.” Those who violate the trepass policy could be arrested or fined.

Coleman announced the university's plans to revise the policy in a Nov. 24, 2010 letter to the univeristy student ACLU group. Earlier that month, the ACLU of Michigan had alluded to the threat of a lawsuit unless the school revisited its policy, while the student group also urged changes via letter.

The March 4 letter from the ACLU applauds the university’s decision to revise the policy, highlights what it characterizes as alarming ways it can be used to infringe an individual’s free speech rights and offers specific ways U-M could revise the policy to keep campus safe while protecting rights.

Michigan has received the letter, spokesman Rick Fitzgerald said, and is working to revise the policy.

But that might not be enough for some.

In February, State Sen. Rebekah Warren, D-Ann Arbor, and herself a U-M alumnus, said the university’s use of the policy might warrant more oversight of campus police departments statewide. Warren announced plans to introduce legislation addressing her concerns.

Read the full text of the March 4 ACLU of Michigan letter here. Read the list of banned individuals here

Juliana Keeping is a health and environment reporter for Reach her at or 734-623-2528. Follow Juliana Keeping on Twitter



Mon, Mar 14, 2011 : 9:43 p.m.

What are Fred Phelps and the WBC afraid of? Rainbows? Unicorns? A flaming pink queer apocalypse? I attempted to address this with a portrait of the good reverend on my artist's blog at <a href="" rel='nofollow'></a> Drop in and let me know what you think!


Tue, Mar 15, 2011 : 5:48 a.m.

Fred Phelps has run for a number of offices as a Democrat and his law firm in Kansas is likely the most prolific civil rights litigator in the State of Kansas. Before his disbarment he received a number of awards from the NAACP and represented Gale Sayers, football player who eventually entered the Pro Football Hall of Fame . Read the full text of the U.S. Supreme Court opinion; the plaintiff in that case endured medically-diagnosed mental injury due to Westboro's outrageous conduct, which the Court held was protected by the First Amendment.


Mon, Mar 14, 2011 : 5:54 p.m.

@Juliana Keeping Can we have a better account of the difference between the initial report of 3,300 trespass warning recipients and the current list of 2,050? Many high school students remain on the list, as well names included more than once. Could juveniles and the dead number 1,250, or have names been selected for removal for other reasons?


Tue, Mar 15, 2011 : 5:40 a.m.

My guess is that the published list only goes back 10 years when others may have been issued trespass notices prior to that.


Mon, Mar 14, 2011 : 5:44 p.m.

@demistify Julea Ward, the EMU student, was not thoroughly represented on all possible claims. We do not know whether this was her choice or her attorney's. Having read the complaint, it appears that her advisers purposely steered the gay student to Ms. Ward to cause the conflict. The faculty were well aware of Ms. Ward's religious beliefs through class discussions and had ample opportunity to address the issue to resolve it privately, but failed to do so. By EMU's admission, a very small percentage of requests for counseling related to gay relationships is sought at that office, so it makes it quite questionable how Ms. Ward would receive that assignment without someone knowing in advance. Ms. Ward took responsibility to raise the issue with her supervisor hours before the client arrived, so the client would not have known and therefore remain unharmed. EMU faculty obviously did not have as much interest in the client's welfare as it did in manipulating a situation to draw Ms. Ward out. She was not allowed to accept any other clients, which would cause failure in the course. Instead of being properly counseled and advised to best meet her educational needs, she was rushed into an administrative hearing for professional standards, whereupon she was not able to denounce her religious beliefs on the spot. Not unlike the expedience of using trespass warnings to rid public campuses of unwanted people, public universities employ multiple ways to get rid of people they arbitrarily consider undesirable. They already enjoy unbridled authority to evaluate students in any manner they choose. If Ms. Ward loses her case, the created case law will have serious implications for students of all faiths and diverse opinions.


Sat, Mar 12, 2011 : 6:51 p.m.

The supreme court was wrong on the westboro &quot;church&quot; ruling...and the ACLU is wrong in defending it , as it so often is in acting as &quot;fireman&quot;, protecting the &quot;rights&quot; of loudmouthed bigots to advocate for the abolition of the rights of decent citizens, , while simultaneously acting as 'pyromaniacs&quot; encouraging and protecting such louts. Actually the supreme court ruling, as i understand it, continues to give states ( and private entities) considerable latitude in enforcing local codes of protected discourse...and i hope the UM continues to &quot;trespass&quot; many of 'roadman's 'heroes.


Fri, Mar 11, 2011 : 2:57 a.m.

The way to get UM-DPS' problem solved is letting Ann Arbor city police to take over UM-DPS. At UM, only the tenured professors are the real boss, they bring the money to the university, the money talks. UM policemen, same as the other administrators, they work for their bosses, the professors . They don't do, or not allowed to do the police job. Same as the professors, the students and their parents bring money to the university, why they are not allowed to say anything. TIME To MAKE A CHANG!!!

Kai Petainen

Fri, Mar 11, 2011 : 4:43 a.m.

I have respect for authorities, but when the UofM DPS cannot solve a mystery, then the Ann Arbor police or the State Police or Federal authorities should be brought in to solve it. If something questionable happens on or near campus and they cannot solve it (or they don't want to solve), then bring someone else in who has the tools/skills/whatever is necessary to solve it.

Tom Lienert

Fri, Mar 11, 2011 : 12:37 a.m.

As if we needed it, the ruling in Snyder v. Phelps, and the ACLU's reaction provide further proof that both the ACLU AND the U.S. Supreme Court need group enemas to clear their collective minds. Wanna bet the Court would be less tolerant about pickets at one of THEIR funerals, carrying signs that read &quot;Thank God for Dead Judges&quot;? As for the ACLU.....


Fri, Mar 11, 2011 : 1:18 a.m.

The U.S. Court of Appeals also ruled against Mr.Snyder, Tom. They also assessed him some $16,000 in court costs which was gratuitously paid by TV host Bill O'Reilly. The Supreme Court has ruled in favor of Communists, convicted rapists, disgraced politicians and other persons viewed as undesirable for decades. The don't care because they are on the bench for life as oposed to the 48 attorneys general that supported Mr. Snyder, who have to run for re-election. Simple politics - pandering to public opinion.


Fri, Mar 11, 2011 : 12:11 a.m.

The UM uses the trespass warnings to make otherwise law abiding citizens into criminals. They use trespass warnings to punish whistleblowers and otherwise suppress dissent. I was threatened by an assistant general counsel because I made a complaint of grant fraud to a UM compliance officer (does that sound like a cover up?).


Fri, Mar 11, 2011 : 1:11 a.m.

The system is broken, Trespass, no doubt about it, especially when MSU only has around 50 people on their &quot;Trespass List&quot;. A good percentage of those listed appear to have &quot;foriegn&quot; names i.e. Arabis, Indian etc. Clearly too much power given to the U-M campus police.


Thu, Mar 10, 2011 : 10:58 p.m.

Check out the link to the banned list of people. There is a 4/3/2007 entry for Yousef Rabhi, well known political activist who is now a Washtenaw County Commissioner.


Fri, Mar 11, 2011 : 5:30 a.m.

The Michigan Daily had reported in its 2/20/11 edition that former U-M professor Douglas Smith during public commentary in a previous Board of Regents meeting had dropped a bombshell in indicating why he believed that Magee was on leave. Check that online edition for Smith's version of events. The Michigan Daily reported that the U-M administration declined comment on Smith's allegation. That article is the last tidbit of information that has been published about Magee and his leave.

David Briegel

Fri, Mar 11, 2011 : 4:35 a.m.

roadman, give us an update on Ken Magee.


Fri, Mar 11, 2011 : 12:56 a.m.

My point exactly. The few names I recognize are well-respected members of the community. One person listed that I recognize is a physician on staff at Beaumont Hospital; another is a former faculty member, hardly the &quot;predator&quot; of students that Ken Magee (antique salesman) characterized when he tried to explain why so many persons were on this vaunted list.


Fri, Mar 11, 2011 : 12:06 a.m.

All of the students given trespass warnings on 4/3/2007 were members of SOLE who were protesting in the lobby of President Coleman's office against the University using companies that employed sweatshop labor to produce UM clothing. Do you think Berkely or Harvard ban student protesters from University property? In fact these were nationwide protests at universities but only two universities arrested students and only President Coleman had the students prosecuted.


Thu, Mar 10, 2011 : 10:01 p.m.

Isn't burying a loved one in peace, or being free to live without fear of torment or harassment, a civil liberty? Perhaps the Supreme Court justices would feel differently if people parked themselves in front of their homes with a bullhorn at all hours of the night, or disrupted a loved one's funeral.


Thu, Mar 10, 2011 : 10:42 p.m.

Associate Justice Sam Alioto may agree with you; he was the lone dissenter on the High Court in the case. The justices were generally cold to Ms. Phelps during her oral argument


Thu, Mar 10, 2011 : 9:35 p.m.

The ACLU is a great threat to our society than any terrorist organization.

Edward R Murrow's Ghost

Sat, Mar 12, 2011 : 2:55 a.m.

Yes--defending the Bill of Rights, which is the ACLU's mission, will bring down this country. Someone needs a reality check


Fri, Mar 11, 2011 : 1:05 a.m.

Yeah, it was founded by such &quot;dangerous scoundrels&quot; as Helen Keller, Congrsswoman Jeannete Rankin, and future Supreme Court Jusice Felix Frankfurter. Ask citizens of Libya, Egypt, or Tunisia if some group like the ACLU promoting civil rights in their courts would be welcome. The ACLU has played a pivotal role in shaping the broad interpretation of the First Amendment that the Supreme Court has given it in the last 100 years.

David Briegel

Thu, Mar 10, 2011 : 9:57 p.m.

Now that's like saying that our Constitution and Bill of Rights are a threat!

Macabre Sunset

Thu, Mar 10, 2011 : 9:18 p.m.

When the ACLU is working with the First Amendment, they are generally right, even though most First Amendment cases are politically unpopular. When the ACLU strays from this work, they are generally wrong, and often at odds with even their own legacy.

Macabre Sunset

Fri, Mar 11, 2011 : 1:51 a.m.

I would argue they were both wrong and acting against the tenets of the Constitution with their challenge of Prop 209 in California in 1996.


Fri, Mar 11, 2011 : 1:21 a.m.

I agree 100%. The principle of upholding the U.S. Constitution is the most important consideration.

David Briegel

Thu, Mar 10, 2011 : 9:23 p.m.

It is an extremely rare day when the ACLU is ever wrong!

zip the cat

Thu, Mar 10, 2011 : 8:26 p.m.

Being a vet,I'd love to see them try there crap in this area. How the bozos at the supreme court ruled in there favor is beyond anything civilized


Thu, Mar 10, 2011 : 10:47 p.m.

zip the cat: The Snyder vs. Westboro Baptist Church opinion was no surprise as it dovetailed with past precedent of this body on First Amendment issues. There was a hope that the &quot;fighting words&quot; exception to the Free Speech Clause would be invoked by the Supreme Court in this case to allow Mr. Snyder civil recovery and the justices referenced the doctrine in their questioning of counsel during oral argument, but the Court came down infavor of the Westboro defendants by an 8-1 margin.


Thu, Mar 10, 2011 : 8:22 p.m.

OMG! U.Mich. has banned from its campus, for life, 2,050 persons in a decade with no due process other than reading them trespass! About 205 people a year? If no other good comes from the craziness of Shirvell, exposing this arbitrary and unilateal exercise of mis-used power is worthwhile. Some U of M bureaucrat dreamed up this policy, and look what it's done.


Thu, Mar 10, 2011 : 10:53 p.m.

You are correct. What is really scary for Mary Coleman is what will happen if a sharp ACLU attorney like Dick Soble (who got a $100 million settlement against the Michigan Department of Corrections) gets ahold of a class action suit and U-M pays through the nose for systematically excluding citizens unconstitutionally off its campus.

David Briegel

Thu, Mar 10, 2011 : 7:24 p.m.

Isn't it ironic that the right wing will direct it's wrath at the ACLU but not the 8-1decision of the Right Wing US Supreme Court.

David Briegel

Thu, Mar 10, 2011 : 9:24 p.m.

Ironic, eh? Everything? Try reading some more!


Thu, Mar 10, 2011 : 7:44 p.m.

Why does everything have to do with people you don't agree with ?


Thu, Mar 10, 2011 : 7:24 p.m.

I have to agree with the ACLU.That being said does Westboro have any plans on pulling their garbage at Uof M ? I'd like to see them try it in Ypsi, we're not that civilized as everyone knows


Thu, Mar 10, 2011 : 10:49 p.m.

Plans have been announced by the Phelps family to begin litigating their landmark legal rights they secured, but nothing specific for this area.


Thu, Mar 10, 2011 : 7:08 p.m.

The Westboro Baptist Church opinion is politically unpopular, their appeal to the United States Supreme Court having been opposed with briefs from no less than 48 states attorneys general, but is consistent with the prior holdings of the high court giving broad Free Speech Clause protections to those espousing inflammatory rhetoric. This case is a landmark one and a positive by-product is its effect on how the University of Michigan will alter its trespass policy. State Senator Warren's concerns are well-founded and I encourage her in introducing legislation to curb the potential for future abuses by the administration at U-M that the public has encountered and seen in the past.


Thu, Mar 10, 2011 : 7:05 p.m.

So, the ACLU is happy that the Westboro Church can go on disrupting military funerals with its message of homophobic hate. It now wants the University of Michigan to welcome Shirvell to renew his hounding of an individual gay student on campus. On the other hand, the ACLU intervened against an EMU student who was bounced from a training program for counselors because she acknowledged her disapproval of homosexuality and sought to pass on any prospective gay clients to others. I had a problem finding consistency between those positions. The best I can do is to suspect that it has something to do with the ACLU's definition of free speech. In the EMU case, the speech was civil and reflective (and the ACLU does not approve). With Phelps and Shirvell, it is raucous and comes out of a bullhorn (and the ACLU rushes in). Could you say that the ACLU is hard of hearing?


Thu, Mar 10, 2011 : 10:39 p.m.

John B.: There are persons banned for life who have done little more than inadvertently wandered into a restricted area and come across a cop. There are political activists that have been banned due to a phone call to police by a person with an oposng viewpoint who provides the police with bad information to get the person arrested.


Thu, Mar 10, 2011 : 10:34 p.m.

demistify: The case you refer to is where the ACLU spokesman set forth that the fired counselor, as a government employee, was felt to be imposing her religious beliefs upon a gay student by denying him counseling services; it was felt that EMU did the proper thing in firing such a counselor. The First Amendment also encompasses religious freedom and forbids establihment of a state-sponsored religion which the ACLU felt was abridged as to the student. I believe that the counselor's conduct also possibly ran afoul of this state's Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act by denying him educational benefits on account of his religious beliefs.


Thu, Mar 10, 2011 : 9:36 p.m.

&quot;The ALCU's policy is determined by its board and typically seeks to protect civil liberties against arbitrary government intervention.&quot; Please explain how that is consistent with the ACLU siding with &quot;arbitrary government intervention&quot; (by EMU, a state institution) against a student.

John B.

Thu, Mar 10, 2011 : 8:09 p.m.

One: no one is saying that the ACLU is 'happy' that the Phelps family wackos can espouse their particularly sick form of hate. Two: I think you're comparing apples and oranges. Two completely different cases. Three: clearly, the current U of M policy is severe, arbitrary, capricious, and accountable to no one. That has to change. Quite frankly, I'm surprised the UM policy has never come up before. They are banning 200 people every year? That sounds excessive to me.


Thu, Mar 10, 2011 : 8:08 p.m.

The ACLU generally only &quot;defends&quot; the civil liberties enumerated in the Constitution that they like.


Thu, Mar 10, 2011 : 7:14 p.m.

The ALCU's policy is determined by its board and typically seeks to protect civil liberties against arbitrary government intervention. The ACLU has virtually always supported an expansive interpretation of Free Speech Clause rights for individuals and groups irrespective of the political content of those expressions. The U.S. Supreme Court has usually upheld the attempts of the ACLU against the government and others who have to restrict free sppech.

Craig Lounsbury

Thu, Mar 10, 2011 : 6:22 p.m.

The University of Michigan is above the Constitution. Technically they are a sovereign Fiefdom land locked by but beholden to the United States

Craig Lounsbury

Thu, Mar 10, 2011 : 6:24 p.m.

insert a &quot;not&quot; between but and beholden...wheres the cursed edit button? My feeble attempt at sarcasm ruined by my failure to proof read.