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LA Times editorial board on FIRE lawsuit: ‘Don’t squeeze free speech on college campuses’

By April 6, 2017

Yesterday, the editorial board of the Los Angeles Times penned an editorial in support of Los Angeles Pierce College student Kevin Shaw’s fight against a restrictive “free speech zone” on his Los Angeles campus. Shaw filed the lawsuit with the support of FIRE’s Million Voices Campaign, which aims to free 1 million students from similar speech restrictions.

“When a public college or university squeezes the expression of political views into a tightly circumscribed area, it not only undermines its commitment to the free exchange of ideas; it runs afoul of the 1st Amendment,” wrote the editorial board.

Last November, Shaw was handing out copies of the U.S. Constitution on campus when an administrator told him he was only allowed to exercise his First Amendment rights within the bounds of the college’s 616-square-foot free speech zone. And even then, only with a permit. He was told that if he failed to abide by the rules, he would be asked to leave campus.

Shaw’s lawsuit, filed last week, challenges the constitutionality of maintaining a free speech zone the size of a couple parking spots on a campus bigger than five Disneylands. It also challenges a policy of the Los Angeles Community College District requiring its campuses, including Pierce College, to designate free speech zones. The lawsuit against officials at both the college and the district is pending in federal court.

The community college district should see this lawsuit as a learning experience,” the editorial board argues. “The lesson is that its view of the 1st Amendment — like the space in which Pierce College apparently wanted to confine Kevin Shaw and his advocacy — is too small.”

FIRE agrees, and we are committed to removing restrictive free speech zones like the ones within the Los Angeles Community College District from all college campuses.

FIRE believes debates, demonstrations, and protests serve a broader societal good. One tool we use to dismantle free speech zones is the Campus Free Expression Act. The legislation, Senate Bill 472, which prohibits public colleges and universities from limiting speech and expressive activity to unconstitutionally restrictive free speech zones, is currently pending in California. It is scheduled for a hearing in the California Senate Education Committee on Wednesday, April 19, at 9 a.m. If the legislation passes, the open, outdoor areas of California’s public campuses would be presumed available for students to exercise their free speech rights, subject only to reasonable time, place, and manner restrictions.

With FIRE’s help, similar legislation has passed with overwhelming bipartisan support in Virginia, Missouri, Arizona, and, just this week, Colorado.

Stay tuned as FIRE continues to set its sights on unconstitutional campus speech restrictions across the country.

Cases: Los Angeles Pierce College – Stand Up For Speech Lawsuit