Student Animal Rights Activist Sues California State Polytechnic University for Free Speech Restrictions

March 31, 2015

By Jennifer Champagne at Paste Magazine

Animal rights activist and California State Polytechnic University student Nicolas Tomas has filed a lawsuit against his university for restricting his free speech rights. Tomas has partnered with Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), which protects and preserves students’ rights across college campuses.

According to the lawsuit, Tomas alleges that a campus police officer had stopped him from distributing animal rights flyers on the sidewalk, asking Tomas to obtain a permit to pass out flyers on campus at a designated “free speech” zone for students. The zone makes up barely 0.01 percent of Cal Poly Ponoma’s campus.

However, the process for a student to distribute materials on campus at Cal Poly Ponoma is more complicated than what the officer directed. A student must first check-in with the Office of Student Life, where a copy of their student ID is made, before being given a badge signed and by a school administrator. However, these badges are only available from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. during weekdays, and even then, all content the student wishes to distribute or post must be approved by the Office of Student Life. Only after this process can the student then finally make their way to the small space to exercise their “free speech.”

“I came to college excited not only to further my education but to also participate in more activism,” Thomas stated. “But I soon learned that it was going to be very difficult to share my beliefs with other students at Cal Poly and that was very disappointing to me. This lawsuit is going to ensure that all students at Cal Poly are able to exercise their free speech rights without having to ask the school for permission.”

Tomas’ lawsuit marks the ninth First Amendment suit filed with FIRE’s nationwideStand Up For Free Speech Litigation Project, which aims to eliminate campus speech codes that unconstitutionally hinder a student or faculty member’s right to free speech.

Coincidentally, FIRE had sent Cal Poly Ponoma a certified warning last fall, advising the school to remove their speech codes or risk being sued.

Schools: California State Polytechnic University – Pomona Cases: California State Polytechnic University, Pomona – Stand Up For Speech Lawsuit FIRE’s Stand Up For Speech Litigation Project