Student sues college that trampled the Constitution on Constitution Day

Robby Soave Reporter
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The California community college student who was prevented from passing out copies of the Constitution — on Constitution Day, of all days — is now fighting back in court.

Robert Van Tuinen is suing Modesto Junior College over the September 17th incident during which a campus security officer hauled Tuinen before a college administrator who told him that he could not distribute leaflets on campus without a permit. Modesto has a designated “free speech zone” where students may pass out papers, but the tiny square of concrete was booked that day. (RELATED: Campus cop stops student from handing out Constitutions … ON CONSTITUTION DAY)

Van Tuinen believes his right to distribute political pamphlets is enshrined in the very political pamphlet he was trying to distribute: the Constitution.

“[MJC administrators] really don’t see that what they are doing is preventing the free speech of students,” Van Tuinen told The Daily Caller.

MJC President Jill Stearns sent Robert Van Tuinen a letter apologizing for how he was treated. Still, the college did not change its policies, and instead criticized the media for blowing the incident out of proportion — leaving Van Tuinen little choice but to sue.

“In fact, they’ve reaffirmed some of the policies that are the reason I got shut down, so this feels like the only way to get some necessary change,” he said.

The law firm of Davis Wright Tremaine is representing Van Tuinen, and the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education is also offering its support.

Robert Shibley, senior vice president of FIRE, told The Daily Caller that MJC is clearly violating its students’ First Amendment rights.

“This is such an egregious abuse that when MJC didn’t immediately change or suspend its policies it became clear something more going to have to be done,” he said.

He stressed that campus administrators should have immediately realized that Van Tuinen had the right to distribute political pamphlets on public property — one of the paramount protections of the Constitution.

“In large part because of the history that distributing literature had in forwarding the cause of the American Revolution… distributing literature is one of the most protected rights we have,” he said. “And you don’t have to be a lawyer to understand that, either. As constitutional cases go, this is not a difficult one.”

Van Tuinen’s lawsuit asks the court to overrule the community college district’s restrictive speech policies. A court date is forthcoming.

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