Modesto Junior College Reaches Settlement With Robert Van Tuinen in First Amendment Lawsuit

February 25, 2014

by Russell Westerholm at University Herald

Modesto Junior College (MJC) has agreed on a settlement with a student named Robert Van Tuinen in a First Amendment lawsuit.

Five months ago, Van Tuinen posted a video of a campus police officer telling him he had to be in a “free speech area” to pass out copies of the U.S. Constitution on Constitution Day (WATCH the video below). Since, he has been assisted by the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) and represented by Davis Wright Tremaine LLP in Washington, D.C. in filing a lawsuit against the school.

According to a press release from FIRE, the legal proceedings are over and MJC has agreed to change its “free speech area” policy as well as pay Van Tuinen $50,000.

Sept. 17, 2013 represented the 226th anniversary of the signing of the U.S. Constitution, “the highest law of the land” as Van Tuinen repeatedly called it in his video. The officer and other school administrators told Van Tuinen he could not pass out any type of literature outside two designated areas on campus.

MJC’s policy change no longer requires students and faculty to seek approval from the administration to free expression on campus. It also lists areas designated for free speech as “areas generally available to students and the community [including] grassy areas, walkways, and other similar common areas.”

“FIRE is very pleased that Robert Van Tuinen and Modesto Junior College have reached this settlement-and that Modesto Junior College students will now be able to exercise their First Amendment rights across campus,” FIRE President Greg Lukianoff said in the release. “But because 59% of colleges nationwide maintain policies that clearly and substantially restrict student speech, there’s much more work to be done.”

Under the settlement, MJC is forbade from ever cancelling these most recent changes and once again adopting the ones Van Tuinen sued over.

“I am thrilled with this outcome and I am grateful to my attorneys and FIRE for securing this agreement,” Van Tuinen said in the release. “Now the Modesto Junior College community and I will be able to engage in free discussion on campus. I encourage students at other schools with restrictive free speech policies to stand up for their rights.”

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