University of Hawaii at Hilo – Stand Up For Speech Lawsuit

Category: Free Speech
Schools: University of Hawaii at Hilo

This lawsuit is a part of FIRE’s Stand Up For Speech Litigation Project. 

Merritt Burch, president of the University of Hawaii Hilo chapter of Young Americans for Liberty, and a fellow student set up an outdoor table to distribute literature and to protest spying by the National Security Agency. Observing other students walking around and handing out items, Burch and her friend likewise moved to hand out copies of the Constitution. 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. One week later, another administrator reiterated the rule against passing out literature, telling students they could do so only in UH Hilo’s “free speech zone.” The administrator observed, “This isn’t really the ‘60s anymore” and “people can’t really protest like that anymore.” 

On April 24, 2014, Burch and Anthony Vizzone filed a lawsuit against the university,  challenging its policies on literature distribution and the “free speech zone” policy. On December 2, 2014, the UH agreed to settle the case, revising its policies across all of its campuses to allow free speech and the distribution of literature in “all areas generally available to students and the community” without requiring that students first seek permission. The university also agreed to pay $50,000 in attorneys’ fees and damages.