Modesto Junior College stops student’s distribution of Constitution

A Modesto Junior College student was prohibited from distributing copies of the Constitution on Constitution day. The student was told by a law enforcement officer and an administrator that he would not be allowed to continue his demonstration because it had not been scheduled with student development prior to the day. The entire exchange was captured on video.

In an email conversation The Current, Robert Van Tuinen, the student in the clip, stated he “immediately sent the video to the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) to ask for help.”

Since being shared on YouTube, the clip has been viewed over 160,000 times.

“The intent was for (Modesto Junior College) to see how the nation reacted to their policies and then change them due to the backlash but that didn’t happen. It doesn’t seem like they have any desire to fix their unconstitutional speech codes,” said Van Tuinen.

Van Tuinen was told by an officer that “as a student on campus, passing out anything whatsoever, you have to have permission through the Student Development office.”

An administrator at the student development office informed Van Tuinen that he needed to be in the free speech zone in order to hand out copies of the Constitution, and had to schedule it ahead of time.

According to FIRE, a nonprofit educational group which sustains and defends individuals’ rights at America’s colleges and universities, one in six of America’s largest universities has free speech zones.

“Free speech zones are a stain upon freedom in this nation,” said Van Tuinen

American River College political science professor Tressa Tabares spoke in support of limiting where students can practice their free speech.

“I think there are reasonable regulations that are appropriate even in a public place like a community college,” Tabares said.

The president of Modesto Junior College issued a written statement saying “it was determined conversation between the student and staff was confusing regarding distribution of materials on campus” calling the whole thing a “misunderstanding.”

Van Tuinen filed a lawsuit on Oct. 10 against the Yosemite Community College district for violating his right to free speech, and is awaiting a court date. “Hopefully MJC will fix their speech codes, bringing them into line with the Constitution,” he said.

President of FIRE Greg Lukianoff said, “Even in the face of national shock and outrage, the college has failed to reform its absurd ‘free speech zone.’ Now it will have to defend that policy in federal court.”

The Dean of Student Development at ARC, Manuel Perez, said that on our campus this sort of incident “is not something that would happen.”

With the exception of inside buildings, “this whole campus is a free speech zone,” said Perez.

“Our campus operates like a public park. Anyone can come on a public park, they can table, they can pass out information.”

One restriction that must be met is “you can’t make anybody an involuntary audience to your message,” said Perez. Students must have and be able to find a way not to hear your message if they chose not to.

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2 Comments on "Modesto Junior College stops student’s distribution of Constitution"

  1. Elisabeth Tsitoura-Harrell | November 12, 2013 at 1:13 pm | Reply

    Absolute free speech is limited to public venues. You have the right to free speech in a public venue, such as a public sidewalk, but not inside a business or other privately managed institution where policy governs behavior. You are not required to enter into the privately managed institution so you choose whether or not you wish to have any of your civil rights limited. While distributing copies of the Constitution would be seen as a positive thing, as the distribution of the material took place on Modesto Junior College campus grounds and is therefore subject to the same approval policy as any other material for distribution. The campus is a public institution but not a public venue. The campus is subject to regulation by the administration and they must set policies that address as many scenarios as possible. So whether it is the Constitution or abolishing abortion rights, all material to be distributed must be approved by the administration. All the students would have had to do was cross the street to a public sidewalk to exercise any of their Constitutionally guaranteed civil rights.

  2. Rob Van Tuinen | March 19, 2014 at 10:51 pm | Reply

    “First Amendment rights, applied in light of the special
    characteristics of the school environment, are available
    to teachers and students. It can hardly be argued that either
    teachers or students shed their constitutional rights
    to freedom of speech or expression at the schoolhouse
    gate… In our system, state operated schools may not be
    enclaves of totalitarianism. … Students may not . . . be
    confined to the expession of those sentiments that are
    officially approved.” Tinker v.Des Moines Independent
    Community School District, 393 U.S. 503 (1969)

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