Calif. student whose 1st Amend. rights were violated by college wins suit

Modesto Junior College

Congratulations go out to Modesto Junior College student Robert Van Tuinen, who has prevailed in his suit against the school for violating his First Amendment right to free speech. The outcome effectively ensures that all college students in the future are permitted to distribute copies of the United States Constitution on campus for years to come.

Van Tuinen filed suit in federal court last October against the school and the Yosemite Community College District, charging the district with violating both his First Amendment right to free speech and his right to free speech as guaranteed by the Constitution of the state of California. The suit also accused the school and community college district with failing to adequately train its employees about the constitutional rights of students. 

A month earlier, Van Tuinen had attempted to pass out copies of the nation’s founding document as part of a celebration of National Constitution Day when a campus police officer told him he was in violation of school policy. According to the officer (and later a school administrator), students could only distribute flyers while standing within a specified “free speech zone” on campus that had to be “rented” weeks in advance.The school has since banned the “free speech zones,” pending approval from the community college district this spring. 

As part of the settlement, students at Modesto Junior College will be free to distributed flyers on campus wherever and whenever they wish. Van Tuinen also received $50,000. He was aided in his suit by the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education.

“I am thrilled with this outcome and I am grateful to my attorneys and FIRE for securing this agreement,” Van Tuinen said in a statement to The Daily Caller. “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.”

FIRE President Greg Lukianoff expressed his satisfaction over the victory as well Tuesday.

“The tenacity of campus restrictions on free speech has been a source of great frustration both to First Amendment advocates like me and, of course, to students who simply want to express themselves. ‘Free speech zone’ policies that limit free speech and protest to tiny little areas on campus have proved frustratingly difficult to conclusively defeat,” he wrote in The Huffington Post

“But when students are willing to challenge administrative overreach on their campus, they win time and time again. If there were more students like Robert Van Tuinen, we might finally be able to close the book on campus speech codes,” he continued.

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