‘Freedom wins,’ says Modesto Junior College student, but free speech lawsuit settlement not final

February 27, 2014

by Nan Austin at The Modesto Bee

MODESTO — The Yosemite Community College District has opened up free-speech areas as sought by a federal lawsuit, but a settlement announced earlier this week has not happened, Chancellor Joan Smith said.

Robert Van Tuinen, a Modesto Junior College student, filed the lawsuit Oct. 10 after MJC staff prevented him from handing out copies of the U.S. Constitution on Sept. 17, Constitution Day. The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education paid the legal costs to file the lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Fresno, Van Tuinen said at the time, adding he did not expect to receive any money from the case.

On Tuesday, the foundation released a statement and posted an article on its website saying a settlement had been reached, with changes to the YCCD policies and a $50,000 award to Van Tuinen.

“Most of that will be covering FIRE’s attorney fees. I am just happy that students can freely dissemi- nate information and discuss with fellow students without asking for permission. Freedom wins,” Van Tuinen said Thursday. His attorneys are from the Washington, D.C., and Los Angeles offices of Davis Wright Tremaine.

At its Feb. 13 meeting, the YCCD board voted to change its policies, opening campus common areas as free-speech zones open to “expressive use,” a key tenet of the lawsuit.

But Smith sent an email to YCCD staff Wednesday saying no final settlement had been agreed to, re- affirming that status on Thursday afternoon, said district spokesman Nick Stavrianoudakis.

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