Two students attending the University of Hawaii at Hilo filed a lawsuit against school after campus officials forbid them from handing out free copies of the Constitution outside of the designated “free speech zone.”
Administrators reportedly prevented Anthony Vizzone and Merritt Burch, who run a campus chapter of the libertarian Young Americans for Liberty, from distributing the Constitution during a January event explicitly meant to help other student organizations hand out literature.
A week later, according to the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, administrators told the pair that if they wanted to notify other students of their First Amendment rights, they could do so in the “free speech zone”–a muddy, one-third acre area out on the edge of campus.
“This isn’t really the ’60s anymore,” an administrator allegedly told them after they handed out Constitutions during an orientation meeting for student organizations, according to a FIRE press release. “People can’t really protest like that anymore.”
The University of Hawaii maintains a policy that demands students apply for permission to engage in “expressive activity” seven business days prior to their planned exercise of their free speech rights. Vizzone and Burch’s lawsuit challenges this policy as well.
“So far this academic year, students have twice been prohibited from distributing the Constitution on a public campus, less than four months apart,” FIRE President Greg Lukianoff said in a statement. “That is absolutely unacceptable. The First Amendment is not optional at public colleges–it’s the law. Enforcing restrictive ‘free speech zone’ policies that prevent students from passing out copies of the Constitution is impossible to justify.”
The students will be assisted by FIRE and the D.C.-based law firm Davis Wright Tremaine, which previously settled a similar suit against Modesto Junior College in California.
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