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

Category: Free Speech
Schools: Modesto Junior College

On September 17, 2013, three Modesto Junior College (MJC) students distributed copies of the U.S. Constitution in front of the student center, in observance of Constitution Day. Roughly 10 minutes after they began, the students were approached by a campus police officer who informed them that students were prohibited from distributing materials without prior permission. When MJC student Robert Van Tuinen protested that such a restriction violated his right to free speech, the officer ignored his claims and directed him to the Student Development Office. There, Van Tuinen was told by MJC clerical staffer Christine Serrano that the school’s “time, place, and manner” policies required students to register events five days in advance and that all events must be held inside a small “free speech area.” Because the area was in use that day, Van Tuinen was not only told he would have to register his event, but that he might have to wait days—or even weeks—to hold it. FIRE wrote to MJC President Jill Stearns on September 19, 2013, pointing out that MJC’s actions were blatantly unconstitutional and calling on the school to immediately rescind its policies. When MJC did not do so, FIRE worked with Van Tuinen and the law firm of Davis Wright Tremaine to coordinate a lawsuit that was filed in federal court on October 10, 2013. The lawsuit was settled six months later after MJC revised its policies to allow free expression in the open areas of campus and paid Van Tuinen $50,000 for legal expenses and to compensate him for the violation of his First Amendment rights.

  • Constitution Day 2014: What a Difference a Year Makes

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    September 17, 2013—last year’s Constitution Day—turned out to be a dark moment in the history of free speech on America’s campuses. That was the day Robert Van Tuinen was stopped from handing out Constitutions on the campus of Modesto Junior College (MJC) in California. He had neglected to sign up to use the school’s tiny “free speech area,” the only place that a student was allowed to hand out literature. On the same day, an administrator at Citrus College (also in California) told student Vinny Sinapi-Riddle that he could be removed from campus for seeking another student’s signature on a […]

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  • Go Behind the Scenes of the Struggle for Free Speech at Modesto J.C. (VIDEO)

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    The free speech gazebo. 0.1%. A “little cement area.” 10-day advance registration. As far too many students sadly know, the vocabulary of campus free speech zones provides a ready example of the absurdity of campus censorship. This year, administrators at Modesto Junior College proved just how far that absurdity extends when they prohibited student Robert Van Tuinen from distributing copies of the Constitution on Constitution Day simply because he hadn’t met the requirements of the school’s free speech zone policy. Robert’s experience isn’t all that unique. Rather than celebrating free expression, too many of our colleges and universities confine it to small areas, restrict it […]

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  • California College Suspends Speech Restrictions Amidst Settlement Talks

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  • California College Forbids Passing Out Constitutions… On Constitution Day

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    MODESTO, Calif., September 19, 2013—In a stunning illustration of the attitude taken towards free speech by too many colleges across the United States, Modesto Junior College in California told a student that he could not pass out copies of the United States Constitution outside the student center on September 17, 2013—Constitution Day. Captured on video, college police and administrators demanded that Robert Van Tuinen stop passing out Constitution pamphlets and told him that he would only be allowed to pass them out in the college’s tiny free speech zone, and only after scheduling it several days or weeks ahead of […]

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