First Amendment rights are under attack at Modesto Junior College in California.
A student attempting to exercise his free speech rights by handing out copies of the Constitution was told to stop any such activity on the campus. On Constitution Day (September 17), the California college student was informed that he must have prior approval to distribute free materials and even then could do so only in an extremely small designated space at the school.
Robert Van Tuinen was able to capture the entire exchange between himself and campus authorities on video. The California student stated that he had reviewed the Modesto Junior College’s rule and regulations regarding material distribution and did not expect to be run off from the student center grounds.
Robert Shibley, senior vice president of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), said the college went too far.
“Watching the video is a combination of depressing and nauseating, to see what rigamarole students have to go through just to express themselves on campus,” Shibley said. “They [speech codes] are imposed in an attempt to sanitize the public space of anything that might offend somebody. The fact is, no school specifically needs a speech code. They have the ability to keep order on campus. If people are too loud, harassing people, or blocking traffic they have the means to address that.”
A Modesto Junior College spokeswoman told Fox News that students are allowed to distribute materials in sections of the campus which are typically available to the public. She went on to say that distribution can be halted if the situation disrupts campus order.
The Constitution pamphlet video, which will likely soon achieve viral status, does not show any signs of academic or campus disruption.
“In the case of the YouTube video, it does not appear that the student was disrupting the orderly operations of the college and therefore we are looking into the incident,” Modesto Junior College Marketing and Public Relations officer Linda Hoile said.
The video begins when the California college student is confronted by a campus safety officer. After being told that he must stop handing out Constitution pocket pamphlets, Robert Van Tuinen asks for a clarification about the distribution rules on campus. The 25-year-old man also asks the campus officer why rules are tied to his free speech rights. Van Tuinen also tells the officer that he was attempting to initiate a Young Americans for Liberty group. The unidentified safety officer tells the student starting such an association was fine, but he would have to follow campus policy first.
Robert Van Tuinen is ultimately escorted to a Modesto Junior College administrative office and presented with a hefty binder which detailed the First Amendment-related policy at the learning institution.
“It was a tense situation,” Van Tuinen said. “To be told I can’t do something as basic as handing out the Constitution was frustrating.”
The student was not able to utilize the tiny “free speech” area on campus that morning because two others beat him to the concrete slab. Since the space was full, Van Tuinen was told he would have to wait until later – perhaps until October — in order to garner a turn to express his First Amendment rights.
How do you feel about the California college student not being permitted to hand out copies of the Constitution on campus?