Calif. college student stopped from handing out Constitution on Constitution Day (Video)

September 20, 2013

by Joe Newby at

Robert Van Tuinen, a student at Modesto Junior College, says his rights under the First Amendment were violated when college police forced him to stop handing out copies of the Constitution outside the student center on Constitution DayThe Blaze reported Friday.

The incident was captured on video and posted to YouTube.

In the video, officers can be seen ordering Van Tuinen to stop passing out the document.

“Don’t I have free speech, sir?” he asked, but was told he could either stop on his own accord or be forced to stop engaging in free speech.

According to The Blaze, he was directed to the campus “free speech zone” — a tiny cement circle big enough for two people — provided he scheduled his free speech in advance with college authorities.

The officer told him that “as a student on campus passing out anything whatsoever, you have to have permission through the Student Development office.” Apparently, that includes America’s foundational legal document.

Robert Shibley, senior vice president of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, called the move chilling.

“The video of Modesto Junior College police and administrators stubbornly denying a public college student’s right to freely pass out pamphlets to fellow students—copies of the Constitution, no less!—should send a chill down the spine of every American,” he wrote.

According to Shibley, the college is not alone in restricting the right to free speech.

“Worse, FIRE’s research shows that Modesto Junior College is hardly alone in its fear of free speech. In fact, one in six of America’s 400 largest and most prestigious colleges have ‘free speech zones’ limiting where speech can take place. This video brings to life the deeply depressing reality of the climate for free speech on campus,” he added.

According to Van Tuinen, it took less than 10 minutes for authorities to appear.

“Virtually everything that Modesto Junior College could do wrong, it did do wrong,” Shibley added. “It sent police to enforce an unconstitutional rule, said that students could not freely distribute literature, placed a waiting period on free speech, produced an artificial scarcity of room for free speech with a tiny ‘free speech area,’ and limited the number of speakers on campus to two at a time. This was outrageous from start to finish. Every single person at Modesto responsible for enforcing this policy should have known better.”

FIRE said that school administrator Christine Serrano told Van Tuinen that he could either wait several days, or possible schedule his free speech sometime in October.

The student protested, saying he wanted to pass out the Constitution on Constitution day, but Serrano dismissively said, “You really don’t need to keep going on.”

Schools: Modesto Junior College Cases: Modesto Junior College: Students Barred from Distributing Constitutions on Constitution Day