California College Settles Lawsuit Alleging 1st Amendment Violation Of Student Who Handed Out Constitution Copies

US Constitution

In September, we wrote about how one college student’s civic-minded attempt to exercise his 1st Amendment guarantee of free speech backfired awfully at a California junior college. But after a lawsuit and several rounds of bad publicity, the college has backed down, agreeing to pay damages and promising to lift its restrictive “free speech zone” policy.

The settlement was a bargain for Modesto Junior College, which bought its way out of bigger potential legal and public relations headaches by agreeing to alter its unConstitutional campus policy and paying plaintiff Robert Van Tuinen $50,000 in damages.

In September, Van Tuinen ran into Administrative opposition when MJC officials learned he was handing out free copies of the U.S. Constitution outside of the designated “free speech” area of campus. This occurred on Sept. 17, the anniversary of the adoption of the U.S. Constitution in 1787. Constitution Day, a day of recognition established by Congress in 2004, falls on Sept. 17 each year, attended by mandatory (if lightly enforced) educational offerings from public schools and Federal agencies throughout the U.S.

After the college banned Van Tuinen from distributing the Constitution, telling him he needed a permit and could use only a delineated area of campus recognized as a free speech zone, he filed a lawsuit against the Yosemite Community College District and several MJC administrators, including college president Jill Stearns.

On Monday, the public school agreed to revisit its restrictive policy on free speech as part of its settlement with Van Tuinen. Key to the settlement was the college’s agreement to end its policy forcing students and faculty to obtain administrative permission to exercise their 1st Amendment rights throughout all “generally available” public spaces on campus.

The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) assisted Van Tuinen in the case; read FIRE’s statement responding to the settlement here.

Here’s the video that sparked the entire controversy last year:

Personal Liberty

Ben Bullard

Reconciling the concept of individual sovereignty with conscientious participation in the modern American political process is a continuing preoccupation for staff writer Ben Bullard. A former community newspaper writer, Bullard has closely observed the manner in which well-meaning small-town politicians and policy makers often accept, unthinkingly, their increasingly marginal role in shaping the quality of their own lives, as well as those of the people whom they serve. He argues that American public policy is plagued by inscrutable and corrupt motives on a national scale, a fundamental problem which individuals, families and communities must strive to solve. This, he argues, can be achieved only as Americans rediscover the principal role each citizen plays in enriching the welfare of our Republic.

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