Calif. college student banned from distributing pocket constitutions files lawsuit against school

Modesto Junior CollegeThe Modesto Junior College student who was banned from distributing pocket constitutions to students on campus on National Constitution Day is suing the school for violating his First Amendment right to free speech.

Robert Van Tuinen, a junior at the school, filed a suit in federal court against the Yosemite Community College district and the Modesto Junior College administrators on October 10.

Van Tuinen was handing out the pocket constitutions as part of a week-long celebration of the nation’s founding government document sponsored by the organization Young Americans for Liberty when school officials stopped him, alleging that he didn’t have prior permission to do so. Van Tuinen was then told that students wishing to distribute materials on campus must do so within a restricted “free speech zone” that must be reserved weeks in advance.

The school later tried to backtrack on its comments, but the damage had already been done.

The claims brought forth in the suit include charging the community college district with violating Van Tuinen’s First Amendment right to free speech, as well as the right to free speech guaranteed by the Constitution of the state of California and with failing to adequately train its employees about the constitutional rights of students. Van Tuinen is requesting that an injunction be put in place which bars the college from enforcing its speech code, in addition to monetary damages determined by the court.

“I was really hoping that MJC would realize its mistakes after receiving media attention and public outcry,” Van Tuinen said in a statement released by YAL Tuesday. “Unfortunately, they did not, so I realized that taking legal action was necessary to protect my rights and other students’ rights.”

Modesto Junior College President Jill Stearns and Joan Smith, the chancellor of Yosemite Community College District, later released a statement, saying that the school wouldn’t comment on pending litigation but that it supported the right to free speech and “thanks to those individuals willing to stand up for our Constitution and expression of free speech,” according to POLITICO.