Student denied constitutional rights speaks out against college

Robby Soave Reporter
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Student Robert Van Tuinen was accosted by a police officer, brought before a college official and told he was breaking school rules.

His crime? Distributing copies of the Constitution to his fellow students. In a public space. On Constitution Day.

At Modesto Junior College in California, students are welcome to exercise their First Amendment rights, but only while standing within the “free speech zone,” a small circle of concrete that fits only two people at once.

In an exclusive interview, Van Tuinen told The Daily Caller that the college’s Orwellian policies are harmful to all students.

“Students in general are the victims of these policies,” he said. “There’s a characterization out there that this me doing this, and while I did make a statement, it’s about students’ rights in general.”

Van Tuinen was told that he would need to fill out a form, provide a copy of his ID and rent time in the free speech zone to distribute copies of the Constitution. His run-in with a police officer and college administrator Christine Serrano was recorded and sent to the media, creating a public firestorm. The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education has condemned the college’s behavior toward Van Tuinen, who has a constitutional right to hand out pamphlets on public property, according to FIRE.

The college initially attempted to walk back its stance, and said that since Van Tuinen was not being disruptive, he should have been allowed to distribute the Constitution outside the free speech zone. (RELATED: California college investigates unconstitutional anti-Constitution policy)

But now MJC president Jill Stearns is walking back the walk-back, and criticizing media coverage of the incident.

“The media coverage does not reflect the campus culture or college mission,” she wrote in the Modesto Bee. “Although it is encouraging to know firsthand that so many are willing to stand in defense of our Constitution, it is unfortunate that so many of the communications in response to the video are personal attacks aimed at MJC staff.”

Van Tuinen said college officials have not reached out to him to explain whether they agree that his rights were violated.

“I have not talked to them,” he said. “I’ve been hoping they would own up to their mistake and talk to me.”

And while many people have contacted him to express their support for what he is doing, members of the student government reacted negatively.

“Student government has really been very upset at me,” he said. “They are just upset that I gave MJC a black eye, rather than paying attention that I am trying to fix these unconstitutional speech policies.”

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