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U. of Hawaii at Hilo Suspends Restrictive ‘Free Speech Zone’ While Lawsuit Proceeds

HILO, Hawaii, May 16, 2014—Facing a federal lawsuit from a student who was ordered to stop handing out copies of the U.S. Constitution on campus, the University of Hawaii at Hilo (UH Hilo) has announced that it will immediately take interim steps to stop requiring students to limit their spontaneous political expression to a tiny “free speech zone.” The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) coordinated last month’s lawsuit against the university for this and other First Amendment violations on behalf of students Merritt Burch and Anthony Vizzone.

“FIRE welcomes this development as a sign that the University of Hawaii at Hilo understands the importance of free expression and is committed to aligning its policies with the First Amendment,” said FIRE President Greg Lukianoff. “Students and faculty members across the University of Hawaii System deserve permanent protection for their right to engage in free expression in open areas of campus and without advance permission.”

The suspension of policy comes after cordial and constructive discussions between attorneys for the students and the university. UH Hilo has announced that it will now implement the challenged rules “in a manner to permit student speech and assembly without first having to apply for or obtain permission from the University in all areas generally available to students and the community, defined as open areas, sidewalks, streets, or other similar common areas.” It will also “permit students to approach others on campus and to distribute non-commercial literature at UH Hilo in all areas generally available to students and the community.”

Last month, UH Hilo students Burch and Vizzone made the restriction of free speech on their campus national news with their First Amendment lawsuit. Burch was stopped from handing out copies of the Constitution in an area by the student center. A college administrator later told Burch and her co-plaintiff, Vizzone, that if they wanted to protest issues such as NSA surveillance, they should do so in a tiny free speech zone that is subject to flooding, saying, “This isn’t really the 60’s anymore. People can’t really protest like that anymore, times have really changed since the movement back then.” Burch and Vizzone are represented by Robert Corn-Revere, Ronald London, and Lisa Zycherman of the law firm Davis Wright Tremaine.

FIRE is a nonprofit educational foundation that unites civil rights and civil liberties leaders, scholars, journalists, and public intellectuals from across the political and ideological spectrum on behalf of individual rights, freedom of expression, academic freedom, due process, and rights of conscience at our nation’s colleges and universities. FIRE’s efforts to preserve liberty on campuses across America can be viewed at

Catherine Sevcenko, Litigation Coordinator, FIRE: 215-717-3473;

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