On September 17, 2013—Constitution Day—Citrus College student Vincenzo Sinapi-Riddle was threatened with removal from campus by an administrator for asking a fellow student to sign a petition protesting NSA surveillance of American citizens. His crime? Sinapi-Riddle was petitioning outside of the college’s tiny “free speech area.” Sinapi-Riddle was president of the Citrus College chapter of Young Americans for Liberty and is passionate about his political beliefs. With FIRE’s help, he filed a First Amendment lawsuit challenging Citrus College’s free speech area and other speech repressive policies.
This was the second time FIRE coordinated a lawsuit against Citrus College’s free speech area. In 2003, the college agreed to abandon its free speech area as part of a court-approved settlement following a First Amendment lawsuit filed by a student.
In addition to challenging Citrus College’s free speech area, which comprised just 1.37% of campus, Sinapi-Riddle challenged two other policies: (1) the college’s “verbal harassment policy,” which prohibits a wide range of speech protected by the First Amendment, including “inappropriate or offensive remarks”; and (2) the college’s elaborate permitting requirements for student group speech, which required student groups wishing to express themselves on campus to wait two weeks and obtain the permission of four separate college entities prior to doing so.
On December 3, 2014, Citrus College settled the lawsuit by revising its unconstitutional harassment policy, eliminating its free speech area, and paying $110,000 in damages and attorneys’ fees.