Today is Constitution Day, marking the 228th anniversary of the day the drafters signed the U.S. Constitution. It’s a day we cherish at FIRE for many reasons, but particularly because so many students celebrate by exercising their First Amendment rights on campus.
Sometimes the simple act of handing out a copy of the Constitution can gain national attention. For instance, on Constitution Day 2013, Robert Van Tuinen, trying to increase awareness of his campus chapter of Young Americans for Liberty (YAL), was stopped from handing out Constitutions at Modesto Junior College in California. That incident prompted the first lawsuit in FIRE’s Stand Up For Speech Litigation Project, which abolished MJC’s tiny “free speech zone”—a concrete stage tucked away in a corner of campus.
On the very same day, Vinny Sinapi-Riddle, another YAL member, had similar problems at Citrus College in California. An administrator stopped him from soliciting signatures on a petition outside of Citrus’ free speech zone, which the college had reinstituted after agreeing to eliminate it to settle a 2003 lawsuit. Citrus settled Vinny’s lawsuit as well, but this time it cost the College $110,000 in damages and attorneys’ fees.
Last year, we celebrated the ability of three Stand Up For Speech plaintiffs to hand out Constitutions on their campuses without hindrance. This year, we are marking the day with our own FIRE pocket Constitution, specifically designed for student activists. In it, you will find activism tips, inspirational quotes, and testimonials by other students on the importance of defending free expression on campus. For convenience when engaging with campus security or administrators, the First Amendment is reproduced in large type on page 43. If you would like multiple copies for tabling purposes, you can request them on our website. Please be patient, however, as our first print run is almost depleted and we have to order more.
Finally, thanks to all the students out there who are expressing their views today on campuses all across the country. Your voices give the First Amendment its vitality.
Happy Constitution Day!