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Less than four months after a student in California was told that he could not hand out copies of the Constitution—on Constitution Day (September 17), no less—two students at the University of Hawaii at Hilo were told by a campus official that they could not hand out copies of the Constitution to their fellow students at UH Hilo’s student organization fair in January.
When one of the students protested that they were acting within their rights, the official replied, “It’s not about your rights in this case, it’s about the University policy that you can’t approach people.”
One of the same students and a different companion were told a week later that political protests should be contained within the school’s “free speech zone,” which covers only 0.26% of campus, lies outside of where most student congregate (I’ve seen the zone in person), and occupies a muddy, sloping plain prone to flooding.
It is perhaps better described as a “censorship swamp.”
After the students commented on how little attention they would likely receive given the isolated nature of the “free speech zone,” another administrator told them that “people can’t really protest like that anymore,” and that “this isn’t really the 60s anymore.”
Fortunately, the student plaintiffs, Merritt Burch and Anthony Vizzone, know their rights. Yesterday, with the help of my organization, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, and with Robert Corn-Revere, Ronald London, and Lisa Zycherman of the law firm Davis Wright Tremaine, they filed a lawsuit in federal court arguing that their public university’s behavior violated their basic First Amendment rights.
Campus speech zones apologists, what few there are, will argue that First Amendment law allows for public campuses to restrict speech as long as the policy is viewpoint neutral and it is limited to what are known as “reasonable time, place, and manner restrictions.” It does not take a First Amendment expert, however, to know that declaring 99.7% of a public college campus not open to freedom of speech, and telling students that they cannot hand out copies of the Constitution to their fellow students, is anything but reasonable.