A student who was ordered to stop handing out copies of the Constitution on Constitution Day filed a lawsuit today in federal court against the college district for violating his First Amendment rights.
Robert Van Tuinen had been ordered by college administrators to stop handing out copies of the Constitution unless he did so in the college’s “free speech zone.”
Van Tuinen is being assisted in his representation by the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education.
Defendants in the lawsuit include the Yosemite Community College District, which oversees Modesto Junior College and 72 other community colleges in California, and MJC President Jill Stearns.
Brenda Thames, the vice president of student services, is listed as a defendant. Christine Serrano, who was seen in the video telling Van Tuinen there is a “time place and manner” is also listed as a defendant.
“Last month, Robert Van Tuinen caught on camera administrators who were so unfamiliar with the basic principles of free speech that they prevented him from passing out the Constitution to his fellow students on Constitution Day,” said FIRE President Greg Lukianoff, in a statement.
“Even in the face of national shock and outrage, the college has failed to reform its absurd ‘free speech zone.’ Now it will have to defend that policy in federal court,” Lukianoff said.
The lawsuit states that Van Tuinen’s rights under the First and Fourteenth Amendment were deprived.
“By stopping Plaintiff’s lawful activities distributing copies of the U.S. Constitution on the Modesto Junior College campus without prior approval and outside the ‘free speech zone,’ Defendants have explicitly and implicitly chilled Plaintiff’s free expression, and have deprived Plaintiff of his clearly established rights to freedom of speech and expression secured by the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the Constitution of the United States,” the lawsuit states.
“Constitutional law can get pretty complicated at times. This is not one of those times,” said FIRE Senior Vice President Robert Shibley. “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.”