Passing out free copies of the United States Constitution may seem like a reasonable way to celebrate Constitution Day; but in an apparent infringement of the Constitution’s own First Amendment, one California college prevented a student from doing just that.
On September 17, Robert Van Tuinen of Modesto Junior College reportedly stood outside the student resource center handing out pamphlets of the Constuition for approximately 10 minutes before campus police approached him and demanded that he cease.
According to college regulations, Tuinen was only permitted to hand out materials in the designated “free speech zone,” implying that free speech is unacceptable elsewhere at the school.
Even in the “free speech zone,” Tuinen would have needed to schedule the event days in advance, so he was unable to continue.
A video of the incident shows Tuinen asking, “Don’t I have free speech, sir?” after which a police officer informs him that he must leave, either willingly or forcibly.
The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) organization stepped in once they learned of the incident, and sent a letter to the college requesting an abandonment of current policies. The letter read:
“The video of Modesto Junior College police and administrators stubbornly denying a public college student’s right to freely pass out pamphlets to fellow students — copies of the Constitution, no less! — should send a chill down the spine of every American. Worse, FIRE’s research shows that Modesto Junior College is hardly alone in its fear of free speech. In fact, one in six of America’s 400 largest and most prestigious colleges have ‘free speech zones’ limiting where speech can take place. This video brings to life the deeply depressing reality of the climate for free speech on campus.”
According to the video, Tuinen was hoping to garner enough interest to start a chapter of the Young Americans for Liberty at his school. With this new publicity, the school may have inadvertently helped the student accomplish his goal.