Student Files Lawsuit Against ‘Unconstitutional’ Free Speech Zones

The Constitution / Getty Images

A student filed a lawsuit Tuesday against the Los Angeles Community College District after he was banned from handing out copies of the U.S. Constitution freely on campus and told he could only distribute them at the campus "free speech" zone.

Student Kevin Shaw filed a lawsuit challenging the Los Angeles Pierce College and the entire LA Community College District's policies that it claims restricts the free speech rights of students.

Shaw was trying to recruit new members for his student group, Young Americans for Liberty, and attempted to distribute Spanish-language copies of the U.S. Constitution in November 2016. He was told by an administrator he could not distribute it outside the campus free speech zone, an area on campus that is approximately 616 square feet.

Shaw was told he also had to fill out a permit application to use the free speech zone and was informed he would be asked to leave campus if he did not comply.

"Students like Kevin go to college to learn and grow in conversation with their peers, but a free speech quarantine like Pierce's threatens to punish students who speak their minds in the wrong place," said Marieke Tuthill Beck-Coon, the director of litigation for the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, in a prepared statement.

"The law is clear: Public colleges like Pierce can't force students into tiny slices of campus to exercise their First Amendment rights," said Beck-Coon.

FIRE maintains the district's unconstitutional policies are restricting speech on campus. Thirteen administrators are named as defendants in the lawsuit.

"This is a civil rights action to protect and vindicate Shaw and his fellow students' rights to freedom of expression under the First and Fourteenth Amendments of the United States Constitution," the lawsuit states. "The District and Pierce College's policies and enforcement practices unlawfully restrict these rights."

The Los Angeles Community College District did not respond to a request for comment.

Update 11:45 a.m.: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that the lawsuit was filed on Monday.