NOTE: The article excerpted on this page is from an outside publication and is posted on FIRE's website because it references FIRE's work. The viewpoints expressed in this article do not necessarily represent FIRE's positions.
by Robby Soave at The Daily Caller
Administrators at a California community college who prevented a student from distributing copies of the Constitution now admit they may have overreached.
Last week, Modesto Junior College student Robert Van Tuinen chose to celebrate Constitution Day by passing out copies of the Constitution to other students. He also hoped to generate interest in starting a Young Americans for Liberty chapter on campus. But after just ten minutes, a campus police officer accused him of distributing flyers without a permit, and hauled him before a school official at the Student Development office. The official, Christine Serrano, informed Van Tuinen that he was in violation of college policy, and would have to rent time in the “free speech zone” area of campus if he wanted to pass out flyers.
Many free speech experts condemned Serrano’s actions. Robert Shibley, vice president of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, told The Daily Caller that the Constitution itself protects the rights of people to distribute pamphlets in public places. (Campus cop stops student from handing out Constitutions … ON CONSTITUTION DAY)
Now, the community college district overseeing MJC believes Van Tuinen’s rights may have been violated.
Linda Hoilel, a spokesperson for Yoesmite Community College District, said students are permitted to pass out flyers in common areas as long as they are not disruptive.
“It does not appear that the student was disrupting orderly operations of the college,” Hoilel told The Daily Caller. “Therefore, we are looking into the matter.”
FIRE gave MJC a “quarter cheer for admitting the obvious,” but expressed concern that the student’s First Amendment rights were called into question in the first place — on Constitution Day, no less.
“The sad irony of this incident should not cloud the fundamental principle at stake: the ability of citizens spontaneously to engage in civic discussion,” wrote Catherine Sevcenko of FIRE in a statement.