College Settles Lawsuit Filed by Constitution-Loving Student

The U.S. Constitution and the Declaration of Independence / AP

A college sued by a student prohibited from passing out copies of the Constitution expanded free speech protections and provided $50,000 to the wronged student as part of a settlement reached last night to end the lawsuit.

Robert Van Tuinen, who was banned from passing out copies of the Constitution last September, filed a lawsuit against Modesto Junior College in October. A videotape of Van Tuinen being told he needed a permit and could only hand out the copies in a small area set aside for free speech at the college sparked widespread criticism.

Modesto has revised its policies to allow free speech in open areas across campus and agreed to pay Van Tuinen $50,000 as part of the settlement. Van Tuinen was assisted by the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education.

Modesto’s previous free speech policy on time, place, and manner, its administrative procedures, and its expectations on campus free speech activities have all been revised. The new policies abolish the requirement that students and faculty must seek Modesto’s permission to speak.

In addition, free expression is also now allowed in all "areas generally available to students and the community," which include "grassy areas, walkways, and other similar common areas."

FIRE President Greg Lukianoff said the lawsuit settlement is not only a victory for Modesto students, but "this is a victory for students all across the country, a victory for free speech and a victory for common sense."

He said this case "is really valuable" and hopes those colleges that have free speech zones will rethink their policies. He said "losing court cases" also sends a "powerful message."

According to Lukianoff, despite FIRE’s efforts, 59 percent of colleges still have "red-lighted speech codes."

"This is something that has to stop and it will take more students like Robert Van Tuinen to stand up," Lukianoff said.

"I am thrilled with this outcome and I am grateful to my attorneys and FIRE for securing this agreement," Van Tuinen said in a prepared statement. "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."