Two students at the University of Hawaii – Hilo are suing their school after they were prevented from distributing copies of the Constitution on campus. The students say the move on their school’s behalf infringed on their First Amendment free speech rights.
The students, Merritt Burch and Anthony Vizzone, were prevented from distributing pamphlets of the Constitution in accordance with the University of Hawaii’s Registered Independent Student Organization (RISO) handbook.
Here’s the pertinent section from the book:
“When using a public venue, RISOs may not approach people to solicit them. Although we support a diverse intellectual and social atmosphere on campus, we also believe that each person should be able to freely choose whether to listen to your solicitation or not.”
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According to the Complaint in Burch’s lawsuit, solicitation in this context also refers to distributing literature. So the school’s move blocking Burch and Vizzone from distributing pamphlets has nothing to do with the fact that it is the Constitution being handed out. Distributing any literature would be prohibited, whether it’s the Constitution or a handout summarzing Mein Kampf.
Here’s the less than satisfying response the school gave when asked to explain their policy.
“The University policy [for events] says that RISOs can’t approach people. We run a diverse campus and people can feel intimidated and it’s like they [the students] can’t say no. We have a free speech zone for students to use and it’s between the theater and new student services building…
“This isn’t really the 60’s anymore. People can’t really protest like that anymore, times have really changed since the movement back then...”
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Law professor Eugene Volokh criticized the school’s policy in his Washington Post column today, and said the “students can’t say no” theory is weak at best.
“In any event,” he writes, “this is a pretty clearly unconstitutional policy, and I hope the university will promptly withdraw it in the face of the lawsuit.”