College That Told Student He Couldn't Hand Out Copies Of The Constitution Now Heavily Revising Its Speech Policies

from the but-it-took-a-lawsuit-to-get-it-done dept

California's Modesto Junior College, best known for telling a student (Robert Van Tuinen) he couldn't hand out copies of the Constitution on Constitution Day, has now reached a temporary ceasefire with Van Tuinen, who filed a lawsuit against the college at the beginning of October.

Modesto Junior College (MJC) has agreed to suspend enforcement of its “free speech zone” as it negotiates an end to a federal lawsuit filed by a student prevented from handing out copies of the Constitution on campus on Constitution Day.

A joint stipulation filed in federal district court yesterday by MJC and attorneys for student Robert Van Tuinen states that the parties have agreed on several significant revisions to the college’s “free speech policies and procedures,” pending final approval by the Yosemite Community College District, expected this spring.
Van Tuinen noted when he filed the lawsuit that he was primarily interested in changing the college's "free speech" policies -- which is now what finally seems to be happening. The most onerous regulations -- limiting speech to the so-called "free speech zone" (a.k.a. the "little cement area") and only with administration approval secured several days in advance -- appear to have been written out of the new policy.
The proposed procedures would change district denial of permission to speak or distribute materials in open areas from “at its discretion” to “in a manner consistent with applicable law.” In general, the policy limits hate speech, use of microphones, soliciting money except for campus groups, blocking passers-by or being disruptive. It says people distributing materials should pick up the discards lying around campus.
As FIRE President Greg Lukanioff notes, these moves put MJC's policies more "in line" with the First Amendment rather than operating in its proprietary First-Amendent-Free zone. Free speech isn't really free when its routed through layers of administrative bureaucracy and sent to wait in line for a chance to utilize the "little cement area" so graciously begrudgingly bestowed by the college.

Trying to create a stress-free environment by ensuring as little free speech as possible occurs on campus is a disservice to students. It does nothing but allow administrators to avoid the uncomfortable situations and confrontations that necessarily arise from the exercise of free speech. Running an institute of higher learning isn't supposed to be easy. If it is, you're doing something wrong. The real world isn't the sort of place where speech never offends. It also isn't the sort of place where speech, offensive or not, waits in line patiently. Creating an insular environment handicaps the same people administrators are supposed to be preparing for the future. It's good to see the district will be removing this ridiculous policy, which has done little but serve as a crutch for administrators who dislike being challenged.

Filed Under: constitution, free speech, free speech zone, modesto junior college, robert van tuinen

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