California is supposed to embody the American dream of self determination, but as one community college student discovered, reality doesn’t always live up to our dreams.
Los Angeles Pierce College student Kevin Shaw learned this lesson the hard way in November 2016 when he was distributing Spanish-language copies of the U.S. Constitution and recruiting new members for his student group, Young Americans for Liberty, along the main public walkway on Pierce’s campus. Shortly after he began, a Pierce administrator approached and told him that he could not distribute literature outside of the “free speech area,” an ironically named zone roughly the size of three parking spaces on Pierce’s 426-acre campus. Shaw was also told he would have to fill out a permit application to use the free speech zone, or else he would be asked to leave campus. Outside of the free speech zone, Pierce College students are prevented from engaging in expressive activity across more than 99% of their campus.
On March 28, 2017, Shaw filed a lawsuit challenging Pierce’s free speech zone as well as the requirement that students get permission before speaking or distributing literature on campus. Since Pierce is one of nine campuses in the Los Angeles Community College District, Shaw’s suit also challenges a district-wide policy requiring each campus to designate free speech zones. On October 24, 2017, the Department of Justice filed a Statement of Interest in the case arguing that, based on the facts alleged in the lawsuit, Pierce and the District’s policies and practices violate students’ First Amendment rights and denied Shaw “his right to engage in expressive activity in a public forum.” The lawsuit has the potential to affect the free speech rights of the more than 100,000 students in the District, which is the largest community college district in the country.
Watch FIRE’s new video to hear more about what happened to Shaw and to learn more about why “free speech zones” are a misnomer.