California College Pays Student $50,000 For Violating First Amendment Rights

Modesto Junior College paid student Robert Van Tuinen $50,000 for violating his First Amendment rights. The California college also vowed to revise its campus free speech policies. Tuinen filed the lawsuit after he was told he could not pass out copies of the Constitution on campus.

The California college student was happy with the free speech lawsuit settlement. During an interview with Fox News Robert Van Tuinen said because of the decision his peers can now exercise their First Amendment rights on the Modesto Junior College campus.

Tuinen captured the entire exchange between himself and campus authorities on video the day he was told he could not pass out copies of the Constitution on campus. The California student stated that he had reviewed the Modesto Junior College’s rule and regulations regarding material distribution and did not expect to be run off from the student center grounds.

Robert Shibley, senior vice president of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), said the college went too far:

“Watching the video is a combination of depressing and nauseating, to see what rigamarole students have to go through just to express themselves on campus. They [speech codes] are imposed in an attempt to sanitize the public space of anything that might offend somebody. The fact is, no school specifically needs a speech code. They have the ability to keep order on campus. If people are too loud, harassing people, or blocking traffic they have the means to address that.”

A Modesto Junior College spokeswoman Linda Hoile told Fox News that students are allowed to distribute materials in sections of the campus which are typically available to the public. She went on to say that distribution can be halted if the situation disrupts campus order. The Constitution pamphlet recording, which achieved viral video status, does not show any signs of academic or campus disruption.

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“In the case of the YouTube video, it does not appear that the student was disrupting the orderly operations of the college and therefore we are looking into the incident,” Hoile said.

The video begins when the California college student is confronted by a campus safety officer. After being told that he must stop handing out Constitution pocket pamphlets, Robert Van Tuinen asks for a clarification about the distribution rules on campus. He also asks the campus officer why rules are tied to his free speech rights. Van Tuinen also tells the officer that he was attempting to initiate a Young Americans for Liberty group. The unidentified safety officer tells the student starting such an association was fine, but he would have to follow campus policy first.

Tuinen is ultimately escorted to a Modesto Junior College administrative office and presented with a hefty binder which detailed the First Amendment-related policy at the learning institution. “It was a tense situation,” Van Tuinen said. “To be told I can’t do something as basic as handing out the Constitution was frustrating.”

The student was not able to utilize the tiny “free speech” area on campus that morning because two others beat him to the concrete slab. Since the space was full, Van Tuinen was told he would have to wait until later – perhaps until October — in order to garner a turn to express his First Amendment rights.

The majority of the Modesto Junior College $50,000 First Amendment settlement will reportedly be used to cover Robert Van Tuinen’s legal fees.

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