On Constitution Day this year, Robert Van Tuinen, an Army veteran and a student at Modesto Junior College (MJC) in California, was trying to pass out copies of the United States Constitution and drum up support for his proposed Young Americans for Liberty chapter on campus. School administrators at MJC didn’t like this and decided to shut him down in spite of the fact that MJC is a public university that must comply with the First Amendment.
Luckily, Van Tuinen caught the entire episode on tape.
In the video, school officials make a variety of vague justifications for shutting down his protected speech, including this gem:
School security: Who you are representing today is The Heritage Foundation.
Van Tuinen: I’m not representing The Heritage Foundation. They simply made the [pocket] Constitutions, which [are] the highest law of the land, that I am passing out.
Van Tuinen filed suit yesterday in federal court, alleging violations of his First and Fourteenth Amendment rights. Van Tuinen has some First Amendment heavyweights in his corner, including the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, and the case appears to be a slam dunk. It is well-settled law that students don’t give up their First Amendment rights as soon as they enroll. Other, similar “free speech zones” have been struck down by federal courts before.
Cases such as these should not ever have to get to court; school administrators should know to respect the First Amendment. But as commissioner Abigail Thenstrom of the United States Commission on Civil Rights has said before, universities are “island[s] of repression in a sea of freedom.”
Today, we might say the same thing about our National Parks. Citizens have a right to speak their minds in traditional public fora, something World War II veterans and Robert Van Tuinen know.
Take a minute to educate yourself on the First Amendment over at the Heritage Guide to the Constitution.