Victory: Modesto Junior College Settles Student’s First Amendment Lawsuit
FRESNO, Calif., February 25, 2014—Yesterday evening, California’s Modesto Junior College (MJC) agreed to settle a First Amendment lawsuit filed last October by student Robert Van Tuinen, whom the college prevented from handing out copies of the Constitution on Constitution Day. The videotaped incident drew national media attention.
As part of the settlement, MJC has revised its policies to allow free speech in open areas across campus and has agreed to pay Van Tuinen $50,000. Van Tuinen was represented by the firm of Davis Wright Tremaine LLP in Washington, D.C., and assisted by the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE).
“FIRE is very pleased that Robert Van Tuinen and Modesto Junior College have reached this settlement—and that Modesto Junior College students will now be able to exercise their First Amendment rights across campus,” said FIRE President Greg Lukianoff. “But because 59% of colleges nationwide maintain policies that clearly and substantially restrict student speech, there’s much more work to be done.”
Last September 17—the 226th anniversary of the Constitution’s signing—MJC prevented Van Tuinen from handing out copies of the Constitution in a grassy area by the student center. Van Tuinen notified FIRE about the situation, and FIRE promptly wrote MJC, asking the college to rescind its unconstitutional policies. With no satisfactory response forthcoming, on October 10, with FIRE’s assistance, Bob Corn-Revere, Ronald London, and Lisa Zycherman of Davis Wright Tremaine filed a federal lawsuit on Van Tuinen’s behalf. On December 17, MJC agreed to suspend enforcement of the policies in question while settlement talks took place.
Late yesterday, both parties signed a settlement agreement that awards Van Tuinen $50,000 and reflects three new policies that open up the campus to free expression—MJC’s policy on time, place, and manner, the accompanying administrative procedures, and MJC’s Expectations for On-Campus Free Speech Activities. Taken together, these new policies abolish the requirement that students and faculty seek MJC’s permission to speak. Free expression is rightfully now allowed in all “areas generally available to students and the community,” which include “grassy areas, walkways, and other similar common areas.” The settlement also prohibits MJC from reverting to the policies that were in place when Van Tuinen’s right to distribute the Constitution to his fellow students was denied.
“I am thrilled with this outcome and I am grateful to my attorneys and FIRE for securing this agreement,” said Van Tuinen. “Now the Modesto Junior College community and I will be able to engage in free discussion on campus. I encourage students at other schools with restrictive free speech policies to stand up for their rights.”
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 thefire.org.
Greg Lukianoff, President, FIRE: 215-717-3473; firstname.lastname@example.org
Image: Robert Van Tuinen distributing materials unhindered at Modesto Junior College