WOODLAND HILLS (CBSLA.com) — A Los Angeles Pierce College student says he was prohibited from passing out copies of the U.S. Constitution outside the campus’ “free speech zone”.
A lawsuit filed by student Kevin Shaw against Pierce College and the Los Angeles Community College District (LACCD) alleges Shaw’s constitutional rights were violated in Nov. 2016 when was told he could not distribute literature outside designated spaces on campus.
Shaw says his goal on that day was to pass out Spanish-language copies of the Constitution along the main public walkway through the heart of Pierce College and recruit new members for his student group, Young Americans for Liberty.
The campus free speech zone, meanwhile, is comprised of “a tiny area on campus measuring approximately 616 square feet and comprising about .003 percent of the total area of Pierce College’s 426-acre campus”, according to the lawsuit.
“For perspective, if Pierce College were the size of a tennis court, the area where students are allowed to exercise their constitutional rights would be smaller than a standard iPhone,” said Nico Perrino, spokesperson for the nonprofit Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), which helped file the complaint.
Attorneys say Shaw was also told he was required to fill out a permit application to use the free speech zone, and that he would be asked to leave campus if he refused to comply.
“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 said in a statement. “I had no idea I would be called upon to defend those very ideals against Pierce’s unconstitutional campus policies. This fight is about a student’s right to engage in free thinking and debate while attending college in America.”
In response to the lawsuit, LACCD consultant Yusef Robb released the following statement: “The Los Angeles Community College District firmly stands behind every student’s right to free expression.”
The LACCD “free speech zone” policy mirrors similar policies in place at community colleges and universities across the U.S. that have increasingly come under scrutiny from some lawmakers, who say such policies may actually have a chilling effect on student speech.