by Russell Westerholm in University Herald
A Modesto Junior College (MJC) student wanted to pass out copies of the U.S. Constitution on his campus for Constitution Day, but was stopped by administrators and law enforcement.
According to a Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) news release, the student, Robert Van Tuinen, stood outside MJC’s student center and handed out free copies of the U.S. Constitution on Tuesday, which was also Constitution Day.
Recorded on video is a campus police officer engaging Van Tuinen and telling him he needed to stop because he had not requested permission from the school in advance. Even then, he would have had to hand out his pamphlets in a “free speech area,” as one MJC administrator explained in the video.
While the campus police officer and school administrator were focused on the act of handing out pamphlets without prior consent, Van Tuinen made it a point to repeatedly state it was a copy of the U.S. Constitution.
FIRE wrote an open letter to MJC’s president, Jill Stearns, asking the policy be removed immediately. FIRE vice president Robert Shipley said he was highly discouraged to see the video and also brought up the issue of such “free speech zones.”
“The video of Modesto Junior College police and administrators stubbornly denying a public college student’s right to freely pass out pamphlets to fellow students-copies of the Constitution, no less! – should send a chill down the spine of every American,” he said. “Worse, FIRE’s research shows that Modesto Junior College is hardly alone in its fear of free speech. In fact, one in six of America’s 400 largest and most prestigious colleges have ‘free speech zones’ limiting where speech can take place. This video brings to life the deeply depressing reality of the climate for free speech on campus.”
Constitution Day is observed on Sept. 17 every year to commemorate the day in 1787 the U.S. Constitutional Convention signed the document in Philadelphia. As Van Tuinen was keen to remind the officer and administrator, it is “the highest law of the land” and guarantees Americans a right to free speech and assembly.
According to the administrator, any student wishing to hand out literature on campus must first reserve a day in advance, allow the school to photocopy their school ID and then stand in the “free speech area” while distributing their document.
The school administrator and the campus police officer did not have an issue with Van Tuinen handing out copies of the Constitution, but that he was handing out a document of any kind. Van Tuinen was then referred to the school’s vice president of student services.