Constitution-wielding student sues college over speech policies

Amber Athey
Investigative Reporter

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  • A Pierce College student has filed a lawsuit challenging the school’s free speech zone after he was stopped for handing out copies of the Constitution outside of the tiny zone.
  • The free speech zone, which covers just 0.003 percent of campus, is reportedly the size of approximately three parking spaces.
  • A Pierce College student has filed a lawsuit challenging the school’s free speech zone after he was stopped for handing out copies of the Constitution outside of the tiny zone.

    In November 2016, Kevin Shaw was handing out Spanish-translated copies of the U.S. Constitution for Young Americans for Liberty when he was stopped by a campus administrator who instructed him that he was not allowed to distribute literature outside of the campus free speech zone, which comprises just 0.003 percent of campus.

    “Public colleges...can’t force students into tiny slices of campus to exercise their First Amendment rights.”   

    According to Fox News, the entire free speech zone is approximately the size of three parking spaces.

    Students also have to fill out a permit application prior to using the small zone, and Shaw discovered he would to be asked to leave campus if he did not follow this procedure.

    [RELATED: Student sues college for evicting her from free speech zone]

    “When I attempted to hand out copies of the Constitution that day, my only intention was to get students thinking about our founding principles and to inspire discussion of liberty and free speech,” Shaw explained. “I had no idea I would be called upon to defend those very ideals against Pierce’s unconstitutional campus policies."

    With the help of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, Shaw has now filed a lawsuit alleging that the speech zone policy “unlawfully restrict[s]” students’ rights to free expression.

    “Students like Kevin go to college to learn and grow in conversation with their peers, but a free speech quarantine like Pierce’s threatens to punish students who speak their minds in the wrong place,” FIRE Director of Litigation Marieke Tuthill Beck-Coon explained. “The law is clear: Public colleges like Pierce can’t force students into tiny slices of campus to exercise their First Amendment rights.”

    [RELATED: Clemson students rally against ‘free speech zones’]

    In addition to his challenge of Pierce’s policies, Shaw’s lawsuit addresses the entire Los Angeles Community College system as they currently require all nine schools to designate free speech zones.

    LACC asserted that it supports students’ free speech rights, but would not comment further on the case.

    “The Los Angeles Community College District firmly stands behind every student’s right to free expression,” Yusef Robb, a consultant to the district, told The Los Angeles Daily News. “We have no further comment on the lawsuit at this time.”

    Follow the author of this article on Twitter: @amber_athey



    Amber Athey

    Amber Athey

    Investigative Reporter

    Amber Athey is an Investigative Reporter for Campus Reform. She graduated from Georgetown University with a B.A. in Government and Economics, and is currently a member of the 2016-2017 Koch Associate Program. 

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