Public University Threatens Students Passing Out U.S. Constitution Outside ‘Free Speech Zone’

October 15, 2014

By Ashley Dobson at Red Alert Politics

Southern Oregon University officials threatened a group of four students with disciplinary action and a call to the police after the group was seen passing out U.S. Constitutions outside of a designated “free speech zone.”

The public university currently has a “zone” amounting to less than 1 percent of the campus where students are allowed to pass out pamphlets and espouse their opinions.

While passing out the copies and collecting signatures against this policy, the students were spotted in a “residential area” by campus officials, Campus Reform reports. The students were on a sidewalk that led to a main road, but were on a section of it close to a residence hall.

As a result, the students were approached multiple times by school administrators asking them to move to the correct zone.

“I would very much like you to leave, if you would, please, because the students have the right to be able to come by here without you guys, you know, invading their space and asking them to do something,” Tim Robitz, the director of university housing, told the students.

“We have our free speech zone. I understand that you may not like it, but that’s where it is,” Allyson Beck, SOU’s family housing coordinator, said.

Both Robitz and Beck’s comments were captured in a video of the incident.

The exchange heated up after the students told them that they were affiliated with Students for Concealed Carry and school administrators even threatened to call the police when the group refused to leave.

“We encountered wild accusations that because the event was affiliated with SCC, there was legitimate fear for the imminent danger of students on campus. Administrators accused us of causing an immediate panic for the safety of students in the face of gun violence, or the promotion of such,” SCC member Stephanie Keaveney told Campus Reform.

“Students on this campus were in no way framing themselves to be a legitimate threat to safety or inciting unlawful behavior. This action was only related to SCC in that its members on this campus believe in order to fight for our second amendment rights; we must first be free to exercise our first amendment rights.”

If this situation looks familiar, that’s because a California student faced a similar situation at Modesto Junior College last year. Student Robert Van Tuinen attempted to pass out copies of the nation’s founding document as part of a celebration of National Constitution Day when a campus police officer told him he was in violation of school policy. According to the officer and the school, students could only distribute flyers while standing within a specified “free speech zone” on campus that had to be “rented” weeks in advance.

The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) aided Van Tuinen’s fight to dismantle the school’s free speech zone and he won the case in February. FIRE is involved in similar campus speech code litigation at four other universities across the country.

Despite the threats, no action has been taken against the Southern Oregon University students at this time and the students have not yet decided to pursue litigation, Campus Reform reports.

Watch videos of the SOU exchange via Campus Reform.

Schools: Modesto Junior College Cases: FIRE’s Stand Up For Speech Litigation Project Modesto Junior College: Students Barred from Distributing Constitutions on Constitution Day