By The Associated Press at Seattle Post-Intelligencer
HONOLULU (AP) — The University of Hawaii revised its free-speech policy and will pay $50,000 to settle a lawsuit filed by two students who claimed their rights were violated.
University of Hawaii, Hilo students Merritt Burchand Anthony Vizzone sued after an administrator stopped Burch from passing out copies of the U.S. Constitution. A second administrator told Burch and Vizzone to move their protest against spying by the National Security Agency to a “free speech zone” at the edge of the campus, the Honolulu Star-Advertiser (http://bit.ly/1vjWs7v) reported.
The revised free speech policy allows free speech and distribution of literature in all campus areas generally open to students and the community. Students will not have to seek permission to do either.
Burch, the president of the Hilo chapter of Young Americans for Liberty, in the lawsuit said she attended a university event in January where student groups set up tables and distributed information. She handed out copies of the Constitution and cards and told them about her organization’s mission.
A university official stopped her, she said. She was told, “This isn’t really the ’60s anymore,” and that University of Hawaii policy prohibited student organizations from approaching people to solicit information.
The university required students to seek permission seven working days in advance of engaging in “expressive activity” in two central outdoor areas on campus, according to the lawsuit. As an alternative, students could make statements in a “free speech zone,” described as a “tiny area (that) slopes downward toward a muddy ravine” at the edge of the 115-acre campus.
Within a month after the students sued, the university announced it would stop limiting student expression to the “free speech zone.”
Under the revised policy, noncommercial free speech and assembly is allowed in “open areas, sidewalks, walkways or internal streets or other similar common areas” if it doesn’t impede passers-by and doesn’t disrupt “the educational process.” Special restrictions may be created for some campus buildings.
For students who believe their rights have been violated, the policy sets up a dispute-resolution process.
Besides the $50,000 damage settlement, the University of Hawaii agreed to pay attorney fees for Burch and Vizzone. They were represented by the Washington, D.C., firm of Davis Wright Tremaine and assisted by the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education.
The university in a statement Tuesday said that it was pleased to resolve the lawsuit and was committed to upholding students’ constitutional rights of expression.