Herbivore sues Mizzou for allegedly violating new free speech law

Mizzou is being sued by an animal rights activist who is claiming that the university violated his First Amendment rights by preventing him from handing out literature on campus.

The man, Richard Hershey, was distributing pro-vegan and vegetarian pamphlets outside of Plaza 900 Dining Facility and the Campus Dining Services office on February 17, when a police officer approached him.

According to The St. Louis Business Journal, Hershey’s lawsuit alleges that MUPD Officer Nathan Sanchez told him he could not distribute pamphlets in that location, despite Missouri’s 2015 Campus Free Expression Act, which expressly forbids “free speech zones” on campus.

[RELATED: Missouri State nixes free speech restrictions]

Hershey says he “asserted his right to remain” at that location, at which point Sanchez placed him under arrest and kept him handcuffed for forty-five minutes.

Hershey was charged with first-degree trespassing, but the Columbia prosecuting attorney refused the charge.

This was not the first time Hershey was told he could not distribute pamphlets on campus. Twice in 2011, after viewing his materials, officers told him he was not allowed to distributed. Hershey said he complied on both occasions, fearing he would be arrested.

The lawsuit also alleges viewpoint discrimination, saying the University of Missouri-St. Louis charged him “a higher rate than other nonprofit and for-profit entities to rent a table from which to distribute literature at events.”

According to the suit, a UM Board of Curators regulation requires those unaffiliated with campus to “obtain written permission of the chancellor to ‘use’ the buildings or grounds.”

Hershey is asking for that regulation to be voided, and is also seeking damages.

Oddly enough, Hershey’s goals of preserving animal rights are not at odds with the mission of Mizzou’s Campus Dining Services, which has vegan and vegetarian options at all locations, along with separate vegan and allergy-friendly refrigerators.

Representatives for Mizzou and the UM System have not publicly commented on the impending lawsuit, and no public information was available on further hearings for this case at press time.

Follow the author of this article on Twitter: @themommillennial