California College Learns $50,000 Lesson in Fight With Student Over First Amendment

February 25, 2014

by Jason Howerton at The Blaze

Last year, Modesto Junior College in Modesto, Calif., ordered a student not to pass out copies of the Constitution. On Monday, the school agreed to a $50,000 settlement and vowed to revise its policies to encourage free speech on campus, a decision officials reached as a result of the student’s First Amendment lawsuit.

Robert Van Tuinen, 26, applauded the decision, telling FoxNews.com that the college was enforcing an “unconstitutional speech code.” He said he is happy that his fellow students can all now “go out and exercise their right to free speech.”

As reported by TheBlaze in September, Van Tuinen video recorded his encounter with an unidentified campus officer who confronted him minutes after he started handing out copies of the U.S. Constitution on National Constitution Day.

“There are rules,” the officer says in the video.

“But do you know what this is?” Van Tuinen replies. “What are the rules? Why are the rules tied to my free speech?”

After some back and forth, Van Tuinen was escorted into an administrative office and informed that his free speech is regulated by campus rules. He was told he would have to go to a free speech zone in front of the student center if he wanted to continue handing out the pamphlets.

That’s when the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) joined forces with a Washington law firm and filed a lawsuit in federal court. Roughly five months after the incident, the school essentially admitted full defeat by agreeing to the $50,000 settlement and promising to revise its speech code.

Though most of his $50,000 settlement will go towards paying legal fees, it’s likely that the lawsuit wasn’t about the money for Van Tuinen. He did say, however, he will be glad to use what’s leftover to pay some other bills.

Schools: Modesto Junior College Cases: Modesto Junior College: Students Barred from Distributing Constitutions on Constitution Day