Two students are suing the University of Hawaii for violating their First Amendment rights after administrator prevented them from distributing copies of the U.S. Constitution — demonstrating a frightening lack of knowledge about the very legal document they were attempting to censor.
Students Merritt Burch and Anthony Vizzone, members of the Young Americans for Liberty chapter at UH-Hilo, were prevented from handing out copies of the Constitution at a recruitment event in January. A week later, they were again informed by a censorship-minded administrator that their First Amendment-protected activities were in violation of school policy.
The students were told that they could only distribute literature from within UH-Hilo’s “free speech zone,” a small, muddy, frequently-flooded area on the edge of campus.
Administrators further clarified their level of respect for students’ free speech rights, making comments like, “This isn’t really the ’60s anymore,” and “people can’t really protest like that anymore,” according to the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education.
The First Amendment has not been modified since the 1960s, however, and robustly protects the rights of students at public universities to hold non-disruptive protests, speak their mind and distribute literature.
Administrators also maintained that university policy took precedent over Constitutional rights, according to the complaint.
“It’s not about your rights in this case, it’s about the University policy that you can’t approach people,” said Ellen Kusano, director of Student Affairs, according to the complaint.
Greg Lukianoff, president of FIRE, could not immediately be reached for comment, but wrote in a statement that UH’s action were “absolutely unacceptable.”
He also noted that this was the second recent instance of a college censoring the distribution of copies of the Constitution. A similar thing happened at Modesto Junior College in California, where student Robert Van Tuinen successfully sued MJC for violating his rights. (RELATED: Campus cop stops student from handing out Constitutions … ON CONSTITUTION DAY)
Burch and Vizzone’s lawsuit is being handled by Davis Wright Tremaine, the same law firm that represented Van Tuinen. The suit asks for injunctive relief, and for the university to pay the students’ attorney fees.