Modesto Junior College bans ‘free speech’ zones after Constitution Day incident

Modesto Junior CollegeModesto Junior College has decided to scrap its “free speech” zones on campus as part of the settlement to a lawsuit against the school for banning him from passing out free copies of the United States Constitution on campus back in September.

According to the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, the Modesto, Calif. college agreed Tuesday to suspend its enforcement of the free speech zone while it negotiates a settlement to the lawsuit filed by student Robert Van Tuinen. A joint stipulation filed in federal district court by attorneys for both the school and Van Tuinen states that the parties have agreed on several revisions to the college’s “free speech policy and procedures.” The stipulation is pending final approval by the Yosemite Community College District, which is expected to come next Spring.

“FIRE welcomes this development as a sign that Modesto Junior College is making important progress towards bringing its policies in line with the First Amendment,” FIRE President Greg Lukianoff said in a statement. “Today, Robert Van Tuinen and over 17,000 fellow students and faculty members may exercise their First Amendment rights without being confined to a free speech zone or required to register in advance.”

Van Tuinen filed the suit back in October in federal court against the school and the YCCD in response to the Sept. 17 incident, claiming that the two entities had violated 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 that they had failed to adequately train its employees about the constitutional rights of students. Van Tuinen requested than an injunction be put in place banning the college from enforcing its existing speech code, as well as monetary damages to be 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 Young Americans for Liberty back in October. “Unfortunately, they did not, so I realized that taking legal action was necessary to protect my rights and other students’ rights.”

According to footage provided by FIRE, Van Tuinen was handing out the pocket constitutions when a campus police officer told him he needed to get prior permission to do so and could only distribute them in a specific area on campus known as the “free speech” zone. The college released a statement on its Facebook page the following week announcing that it would look into the incident.