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On college campuses, the Constitution should be the only free speech zone

By in Press Enterprise on November 9, 2017

By The Editorial Board

America’s colleges should be bastions of free speech, places where ideas can be freely expressed, exchanged and debated. On too many college campuses, this expectation is thwarted, with free speech often restricted by arbitrary administrative regulations.

One local example is the case of Pierce College student Kevin Shaw, who dared to distribute copies of the U.S. Constitution on campus. On Nov. 2, 2016, Shaw and other student members of Young Americans for Liberty were approached by a school representative who told Shaw that he was in violation of the college’s “free speech” policy and wasn’t allowed to continue distributing the U.S. Constitution outside of the designated “free speech “area on campus.

Under the peculiar rules of Pierce College, students wishing to exercise their First Amendment rights must apply for a free speech permit and stay within a 616-square-foot area of the 426-acre campus.

Fortunately, Shaw, with the help of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, filed a lawsuit against the Los Angeles Community College District in March, arguing that Pierce College violated his civil rights and requesting that the court strike down rules limiting free speech at Pierce and other district colleges.

Late last month, the lawsuit received notable support from the U.S. Department of Justice, which filed a brief in support of Shaw’s lawsuit, arguing that Pierce College’s policies unconstitutionally restrain free speech.

The move came a month after Attorney General Jeff Sessions, in a Sept. 26 speech at the Georgetown Center for the Constitution, strongly condemned encroachments on free speech on campuses.

“Freedom of thought and speech on the American campus are under attack,” he said, invoking the 1969 U.S. Supreme Court case Tinker v. Des Moines, in which the court warned: “Freedom of expression would not truly exist if the right could be exercised only in an area that a benevolent government […]    

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