A California college student is suing the Los Angeles Community College District (LACCD), claiming that his First Amendment rights were violated when his school prohibited him from handing out copies of the U.S. Constitution.
Kevin Shaw, a student at Pierce College in California says he was stopped from handing out Spanish-language copies of the U.S. Constitution on campus because it was not inside the school’s designated “free speech area.”
In his lawsuit complaint, Shaw alleges that, while he was handing out Spanish-language copies of the U.S. Constitution, he was forced to stop and was then escorted into an office and told to complete a permit application to use the college’s “Free Speech Area.” The free speech area measures 616 square feet and comprises approximately .003% of the total area of Pierce College’s 426-acre campus.
The original complaint filed in March of last year by Shaw states that “restricting all First Amendment activity to Pierce College’s tiny, designated Free Speech Area impermissibly restricts student expression, does not serve a significant government interest, and is unconstitutionally vague and overbroad.”
The lawsuit was filed by Arthur Willner, a partner at Leader & Berkon LLP, in partnership with the Foundation for Individual Rights and Education (FIRE), an organization that advocates for freedom of speech on college campuses.
The case is currently ongoing and in the discovery phase, said Director of Litigation at FIRE and attorney for Kevin Shaw, Marieke Tuthill Beck-Coon, in a statement to CNSNews.com:
“Kevin Shaw's case against administrators at Los Angeles Pierce College and the Board of Trustees for the Los Angeles Community College District is ongoing and is currently in the discovery phase of a civil case. We remain confident that the court will vindicate Kevin's First Amendment rights -- and those of all students in the district -- by striking down the college's and the district's policies creating ironically-named "free speech zones."
The Department of Justice has also weighed in on the case, issuing a Statement of Interest on behalf of Shaw, arguing that the college’s speech policy is unconstitutional:
“In the United States’ view, Plaintiff Kevin Shaw has properly pleaded that speech regulations imposed by Los Angeles Pierce College (“Pierce College” or “College”) and the Los Angeles Community College District (“District”) violated his First Amendment rights.”
In its announcement of the Statement of Interest, the Justice Department says the school’s restrictions are both invalid and an assault on free speech:
“The Justice Department primarily argues that the plaintiff’s allegations have adequately pleaded violations of his First Amendment. The Justice Department argues that the college’s speech policies amounted to an unconstitutional prior restraint that chilled free expression, and that they did not constitute valid time, place, and manner restrictions.”
On Tuesday, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions cited the Pierce College case as an example of violations of the right to free speech on campus:
“Last March a student filed suit against Los Angeles Pierce College, alleging that it prohibited him from distributing copies of the Constitution outside of the designated 'free speech zone.' How big was this free speech zone? 616 square feet—barely the size of a couple of college dorm rooms. Outside of that space, students did not have freedom of speech.
“The student sued and we stepped in on his behalf in the case.”
Yusef Robb, a consultant for LACCD, said in a statement that “the Los Angeles Community College District firmly stands behind every student’s right to free expression,” reported USA Today at the time of the filing. When contacted by CNSNews.com, Robb said he was not currently up-to-date on the case and was unable to comment further. CNSNews.com has contacted Pierce College and is awaiting comment.