By Susan Kruth at The Huffington Post
Last September 17, Modesto Junior College (MJC) student Robert Van Tuinen planned to celebrate Constitution Day by handing out copies of the Constitution at the California public campus. Plainly ignoring the guarantees of the First Amendment, campus security and a member of the MJC staff told Van Tuinen that he could hand out his written materials only in a small “free speech zone” and only with prior permission. So Van Tuinen took MJC to court, ultimately securing his and his peers’ rights to free expression with the help of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), where I work, and the law firm Davis Wright Tremaine. In an inspiring new video, Van Tuinen tells the story in his own words — but that’s not all. Watch to see what speaking in the free speech zone would have looked like. (Spoiler alert: It’s pretty pathetic.) And hear how Van Tuinen wasn’t the only MJC community member risking trouble by trying to raise awareness of constitutional rights. After Leslie Beggs reported on the case for The Modesto Bee, MJC asked her to take over three classes for a teacher who retired suddenly, as she had taught at the college before. She accepted in the morning, but in the afternoon the “higher-ups” rescinded the job offer because of the editorial. In the end, she taught one course. (For some of her recent thoughts on the case, click over to Beggs’s blog.) MJC ethics professor Bill Holly wrote to MJC faculty, criticizing the college for censoring its students — and the consequences made him fear for his job. Thanks to Van Tuinen, the situation at MJC is, as he says, “a thousand times better now.” If you’re a student whose university is restricting or punishing constitutionally protected speech, you can make your institution better too. Just contact FIRE to get started. Check out the video on FIRE’s YouTube channel.