Hawaiian Student Sues After Being Ordered to Stop Handing Out Pocket Constitutions

April 24, 2014

By Katherine Mangu-Ward at Reason Online

The always formidable defenders of free speech at the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) filed a lawsuit in federal court today on behalf of a student who committed the heinous crime of handing out wee copies of the U.S. Constitution at the University of Hawaii at Hilo:

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.

This is my favorite part, where the university administation tells Burch to go hand out her darned Constitutions on a tiny muddy plot on the edge of campus because “this isn’t really the ’60s anymore.”

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 percent 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.”

Burch and Vizzone are challenging the denial of their right to hand out literature and policies restricting the distribution of literature. The suit also challenges UH Hilo’s “free speech zone,” a separate policy requiring students to request permission seven working days prior to engaging in expressive activity in two central outdoor areas on campus, and the failure of UH Hilo officials to adequately train administrators on the rights of college students.

Want to start your very own kampus kerfuffle? Grab a handful of pocket Constitutions from the Cato Institute for a dollar a pop.

Or maybe get one from a friendly cop?

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