As we reported here on The Torch yesterday, Modesto Junior College (MJC) student Robert Van Tuinen has filed suit against the school after school officials ordered him to stop handing out copies of the Constitution on campus on September 17, Constitution Day. Despite MJC President Jill Stearns’ statement that students do not have to provide notice for their on-campus speech or limit themselves to a small area of campus, MJC maintains policies that hold otherwise, and Van Tuinen’s complaint explains how these policies violate students’ First Amendment rights. The Modesto Bee published a statement by Stearns and Yosemite Community College District Chancellor Joan Smith yesterday:
We do not comment on pending litigation; however, we express our thanks to those individuals willing to stand up for our Constitution and expression of free speech. We affirm the commitment of the college and district to civil discourse.
We appreciate all points of view across the spectrum and support every individual’s right to express their view. Modesto Junior College and the Yosemite Community College District wholly support the state and federal constitutions and student free speech.
FIRE, of course, also applauds students like Van Tuinen who fight to protect students’ rights on campus. But coming from Smith and Stearns, who are among the defendants listed in Van Tuinen’s complaint, the statement rings hollow. Stearns could have affirmed the college’s commitment to civil discourse and freedom of expression by, for example, acknowledging that MJC’s policies and practices were problematic and suspending or discarding them instead of vaguely promising that the district is “evaluating” them. She did not.
Check back to The Torch for more updates on Van Tuinen’s lawsuit.