College Administrators to Students: Stop Giving Away Free Copies of the Constitution

April 25, 2014

By Daniel Doherty at Townhall.com

Remember when America’s colleges and universities used to be places of free inquiry, open dialogue, and intellectual development? I’m seriously beginning to wonder: are those days long gone? Apparently, even the First Amendment right to hand out free copies of the U.S. Constitution on college campuses is under assault.

Thankfully, however, not every college student is backing down without a fuss (viaFIRE):

 A student ordered by administrators to stop handing out copies of the U.S. Constitution at the University of Hawaii at Hilo has filed a lawsuittoday in federal court. Merritt Burch is suing the University of Hawaii System for violating her First Amendment rights. She is joined as a plaintiff by fellow student Anthony Vizzone. …The complaint alleges that on January 16, 2014, plaintiff Merritt Burch, who is president of the UH Hilo chapter of Young Americans for Liberty (YAL), and a fellow student YAL member were participating in an outdoor event where student groups set up tables to distribute literature. Observing other students walking around and handing out items, Burch and her friend walked out from behind YAL’s table to likewise hand out Constitutions and YAL information cards. A UH Hilo administrator ordered Burch and her companion to stop approaching students and get back behind their table, dismissing Burch’s protest about her constitutional rights.

A week later, in an orientation meeting for student organizations, another administrator reiterated the rule against passing out literature. Burch and Vizzone were told that if they wanted to protest, the proper place to do so would be in UH Hilo’s “free speech zone,” a sloping, one-third acre area on the edge of campus. The “free speech zone” represents approximately 0.26% of UH Hilo’s total area and is muddy and prone to flooding in Hilo’s frequent rain. The administrator further observed, “This isn’t really the ’60s anymore” and “people can’t really protest like that anymore.”

Huh? How on earth is encouraging students to read the U.S. Constitution a form of protest? In a college setting, reading America’s founding documents should be strongly encouraged, if not required. Conversely, actively discouraging students from handing out free academic literature — especially a resource as important and essential as the U.S. Constitution — makes zero sense. What are college administrators so afraid of anyway? College kids might actually read it?

Stifling free expression on campuses of higher learning will only discourage debate and diversity of thought. Then again, maybe that’s the point.

Schools: University of Hawaii at Hilo Cases: University of Hawaii at Hilo – Speech Code Litigation