Student Prevented From Handing Out Constitutions on Constitution Day Sues His College

 

A couple of weeks back, I wrote about Robert Van Tuinen, a student in California whose college banned him from distributing copies of the Constitution in public areas of campus on September 17—Constitution Day. The story was national news and rightfully outraged many supporters of free expression (not to mention common sense) nationwide.

Unfortunately, despite the widespread criticism of Modesto Junior College’s actions, college president Jill Stearns has since only agreed to “evaluate” the school’s policies that resulted in the censorship of Van Tuinen. Today, the school still requires that students register their expression five days in advance and limit it to a tiny, cement “free speech area.” It should therefore come as no surprise that Van Tuinen is suing the Yosemite Community College District and Modesto Junior College administrators for violating his free speech rights both under the California Constitution and the First Amendment.

FIRE Senior VP Robert Shibley put it well in today’s press release:

“Constitutional law can get pretty complicated at times. This is not one of those times … As FIRE has said from the beginning, every person at Modesto Junior College responsible for enforcing this policy should have known better. The fact that Modesto’s policy was not immediately abandoned when its shameful results were exposed on video is more evidence that too many college administrators fear freedom of speech—and demonstrates how out of touch they are with an American public that respects the First Amendment.”

I’ll continue to update Ricochet members on the case as it plays out. In the meantime, you can relive Van Tuinen’s surreal ordeal in this video:

Like this post? Want to comment? Join Ricochet’s growing community of conservatives and be part of the conversation. Get your first month free.

There are 14 comments.

  1. Member

    I apologize for not already knowing the answer to this, but may I assume that these schools are state institutions?

    Even so, is there case-law that discusses the nature of such schools as being a public forum? They are closed (and perhaps I assume incorrectly) to the general public, are they not?I am all in favor of free speech, and I think these schools are idiotic, but what I am not in favor of is achieving our preferred outcome by enforcing constitutional rules on private entities to whom those rules do not apply.
    • #1
    • October 10, 2013, at 11:47 AM PDT
    • Like
  2. Contributor
    Greg Lukianoff Post author

    Thanks Ryan. Yes, MJC is public and there is plenty of case law going back decades about free speech on public campuses and to what extent they serve as public forums. It would take me a lot more than this space to explain it but I can offer my book, Unlearning Liberty, the FIRE Guide to Free Speech on Campus, and, several recent cases, including this one about U Cincy. This should not be a tough call for the CA courts, legally speaking. As for whether or nor not colleges is or should be closed to the general public is not an issue here as the plaintiff is a student at the college. 

    • #2
    • October 10, 2013, at 11:58 AM PDT
    • Like
  3. Member

    Good for him!

    Yeah – the entire concept of the constitution is completely lost on the University administration staff…

    I can just imagine the alumni from the 60s in today’s college campuses. Oh what fun it would be to watch. I recently re-watched Dead Poets Society; it is as though all Universities today are the Welton Academy….

    • #3
    • October 11, 2013, at 1:01 AM PDT
    • Like
  4. Member
    Greg Lukianoff: Thanks Ryan. Yes, MJC is public and there is plenty of case law going back decades about free speech on public campuses and to what extent they serve as public forums. It would take me a lot more than this space to explain it but I can offer my book, Unlearning Liberty, the FIRE Guide to Free Speech on Campus, and, several recent cases, including this one about U Cincy. This should not be a tough call for the CA courts, legally speaking. As for whether or nor not colleges is or should be closed to the general public is not an issue here as the plaintiff is a student at the college.

    Oh, I’m familiar with the law (in general, anyway) – having worked (as an intern) with Institute for Justice (and, for what it’s worth, I think I sent an inquiry to FIRE at one point) – I was just curious whether the particular school is public and whether it has been deemed a public forum by case-law.

    I’ll read the case; that sounds very interesting.

    • #4
    • October 11, 2013, at 1:55 AM PDT
    • Like
  5. Inactive

    Good to hear. Thanks, Gregg. Will continue to follow with interest.

    • #5
    • October 11, 2013, at 6:42 AM PDT
    • Like
  6. Reagan

    I’m a lawyer. Who is FIRE and where do I go to volunteer? This is the absurdist bloody thing I’ve ever heard.

    • #6
    • October 11, 2013, at 8:46 AM PDT
    • Like
  7. Member

    The most powerful and disturbing parts of that video were the map which showed the tiny little “free speech area” and the woman checking the schedule to find the last two days in the month when the student could exercise his free speech. On a university campus — supposedly a forum for the free expression of ideas — ones liberty to share the truth and express ideas is only available by appointment and ghettoized to a tiny area of a large campus. Shameful.

    • #7
    • October 11, 2013, at 12:05 PM PDT
    • Like
  8. Contributor
    Greg Lukianoff Post author
    Karen Humiston: The most powerful and disturbing parts of that video were the map which showed the tiny little “free speech area” and the woman checking the schedule to find the last two days in the month when the student could exercise his free speech. On a university campus — supposedly a forum for the free expression of ideas — ones liberty to share the truth and express ideas is only available by appointment and ghettoized to a tiny area of a large campus. Shameful. · 0 minutes ago

    Agreed! And FSZs are scarily common at universities as well. If you have a minute, check out this video about the previously mentioned FIRE case at U Cincy.

    • #8
    • October 11, 2013, at 12:08 PM PDT
    • Like
  9. Coolidge

    There is no free speech on college campuses. My own wife, going back to school after 20-odd years away, is worried about expressing her own opinions in class for fear of getting a lower grade. She said “I’m just going to get through this class and get my grade and move on.” If she were to go to the administration, I am sure they’d pay her lip service and do nothing about it. However, if the political ideologies were different, you can bet heads would roll.

    • #9
    • October 11, 2013, at 12:12 PM PDT
    • Like
  10. Inactive

    Van Tuinen, FIRE, and supporters might also want to talk to Liberty Institute. These guys handle mostly Establishment and Free Exercise questions, but they might have some ideas/help here, too.

    Eric Hines

    • #10
    • October 11, 2013, at 12:20 PM PDT
    • Like
  11. Member

    Greg — Thanks for the video link. I had no idea these “free speech zones” were so common. One would hope that the court finding in the Cincinnati case would have have resulted in other campuses eliminating the FSZs as well. Perhaps it needs a SCOTUS ruling. We should all make a donation to FIRE in the meantime.

    • #11
    • October 11, 2013, at 12:23 PM PDT
    • Like
  12. Contributor
    Greg Lukianoff Post author
    Karen Humiston: Greg — Thanks for the video link. I had no idea these “free speech zones” were so common. One would hope that the court finding in the Cincinnati case would have have resulted in other campuses eliminating the FSZs as well. Perhaps it needs a SCOTUS ruling. We should all make a donation to FIRE in the meantime. · 20 minutes ago

    Thank you, Karen.

    The only reason why we likely will not get a SCOTUS decision is because the law is already quite clear these shenanigans are against the Constitution. Campuses like this are scofflaws and it may take the constant threat of a lawsuit to get them to act better. Cynical and sad, but true. 

    • #12
    • October 11, 2013, at 12:47 PM PDT
    • Like
  13. Inactive

    Time once again to refer to Indoctrinate U, with an appearance by Dr. Lukianoff!

    • #13
    • October 12, 2013, at 9:39 AM PDT
    • Like
  14. Contributor
    Greg Lukianoff Post author
    Cato Rand f/k/a GFL: I’m a lawyer. Who is FIRE and where do I go to volunteer? This is the absurdist bloody thing I’ve ever heard. · 15 hours ago

    Yes, we do have a Legal Network and we’d love to have you and any other Ricochet lawyers join. You can sign up here: http://thefire.org/takeaction/lawyers/

    And, yes, I have been doing this now for 12 years and the stuff campus admins try to pull STILL surprises me on a regular basis. 

    • #14
    • October 12, 2013, at 12:18 PM PDT
    • Like