Student Prevented From Handing Out Copies Of The Constitution Wins Lawsuit Against College

February 27, 2014

by Tim Cushing at TechDirt

from the free-speech-can’t-be-’zoned’ dept

Robert Van Tuinen, the Modesto Junior College student who was told by school administration that he couldn’t pass out copies of the Constitution on campus, has won his lawsuit (filed with FIRE [Foundation for Individual Rights in Education]) against the school.

California’s Modesto Junior College (MJC) [has] agreed to settle a First Amendment lawsuit filed last October by student Robert Van Tuinen, whom the college prevented from handing out copies of the Constitution on Constitution Day…

As part of the settlement, MJC has revised its policies to allow free speech in open areas across campus and has agreed to pay Van Tuinen $50,000. Van Tuinen was represented by the firm of Davis Wright Tremaine LLP in Washington, D.C., and assisted by the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE).

The college, which previously “fought back” by complaining about negative press and “hatred and cruelty” directed at its staff, has overhauled its free speech policies, opening up the campus to students who wish to exercise their First Amendment rights.

Limited public forums on Modesto Junior College’s campus are “areas generally available to students and the community,” defined as grassy areas, walkways, or other similar common areas.

This is a significant improvement over MJC’s previous “free speech area,” which was a small concrete slab only accessible to students who had been granted “permission” by the administration in advance to exercise their free speech rights.

The timeframe available to students has also been expanded and is no longer limited to one-hour reserved slots.

Use of free speech areas is permitted every day from 8:00 am to 9:00 pm. Speakers who will be using the free speech areas outside normal working hours (Monday-Friday from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm) are encouraged to notify the Office of Student Development and Campus Life to coordinate their event.

Note the fact that contact is “encouraged” but not required. These new policies are now in effect not just at Modesto Junior College, but at all schools within the Yosemite Community College District.

While this is a heartening win for free expression on MJC’s campus, FIRE notes that 59% of colleges nationwide still uphold policies that restrict free expression on campus. That this particular situation resulted in litigation is unfortunate, considering the application of a little common sense by school administrators would have saved the college $50,000 plus whatever it racked up in legal fees defending a stupid, restrictive policy.

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