Free-Speech Battle Hits the Big Island

May 13, 2014

By Bob Kellogg at OneNewsNow

Two University of Hawaii-Hilo students filed a lawsuit in late April alleging that Campus Student Center director Ellen Kusano prevented them from leaving their tables to hand out copies of the Constitution during an outside event in January where student groups had set up tables to distribute literature. Robert Shibley of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) says other students are now complaining Kusano interfered with student elections.

“This latest complaint has to do with student elections and how the UH-Hilo authorities are preventing students from freely passing out election-related materials,” says the FIRE spokesman. “These are all very core aspects of the First Amendment. If you can’t communicate the Constitution or things about elections, what can you communicate?”

According to FIRE, the UH-Hilo students – Merritt Burch and Anthony Vizzone – were told they can only distribute literature in the school’s “free speech zone” and “can’t really protest like that anymore” on behalf of their constitutional rights. And while Kusano has been singled out as the administrator who delivered that message, Shibley says the problem goes beyond just one individual.

“It does seem to center around one individual, but it appears to be an application of UH-Hilo’s policies that they should have anticipated would be problematic for free speech – and that’s part of what the lawsuit is about,” he explains.

Shibley says it’s significant that students are suddenly standing up for their constitutional rights and forcing the university to justify its actions.

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