Court schools Pierce College on Freedom of Speech
The final outcome of this case and court decision could have stronger implications for universities across the country where freedom of speech is being threatened on campus or compartmentalized into tiny corners away from “safespaces.”
In March 2017, Kevin Shaw, 27, and attorneys from the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education filed a lawsuit against administrators at LACCD and Pierce College after Shaw was told he could not hand out Spanish-language copies of the U.S. Constitution on behalf of Young Americans for Liberty outside the college’s tiny free speech zone, which measured 616 square feet or about the size of three parking spaces.
“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.”
Then in October 2017, Jeff Sessions brought the weight of the DoJ to bare in the case when he sided with Kevin Shaw in a Statement of Interest. The statement warned about a larger epidemic of suppression of free speech and expression at colleges and universities across the country.
DoJ had filed a similar Statement of Interest defending the freedom of speech rights in Uzuegbunam v. Preczewski suit against Georgia Gwinnett College at the end of September. A lawsuit for Uzuegbunam was filed in December 2017.
“A national recommitment to free speech on campus and to ensuring First Amendment rights is long overdue. Which is why, starting today, the Department of Justice will do its part in this struggle. We will enforce federal law, defend free speech, and protect students’ free expression.” Attorney General Sessions statement.
Fast forward to now–
Court rejects Pierce College’s attempt to dismiss lawsuit against its tiny ‘free speech zone’
Foundation for Individual Rights
January 18, 2018
In October, the Department of Justice filed a Statement of Interest in Shaw’s case, arguing that Shaw successfully alleged First Amendment violations.
Yesterday’s opinion from the United States District Court for the Central District of California concluded that Shaw’s lawsuit indeed alleges violations of his First Amendment rights and can proceed. The suit targets LACCD and Pierce College policies confining all student speech to campus “free speech areas” and a Pierce policy requiring students to obtain a permit before using the tiny area it allows for speech.
The court declared that the open, outdoor areas of Pierce’s campus are public forums for speech, regardless of institutional policies claiming otherwise. “This characterization makes sense,” the court wrote, “because after all, what is a university’s purpose but to expose students to new ideas and spark dialogue?” Rejecting the argument that having a free speech area is necessary to the orderly running of the campus, the court reasoned that the school’s “literally ‘narrow’ free speech area, comprising 616 square feet on a campus spanning hundreds of acres … does not achieve Defendants’ stated goals without unnecessarily impeding students’ First Amendment rights.”
Although the court upheld Shaw’s First Amendment challenges, it granted the school’s motion to dismiss his claims for monetary damages against administrators based on “qualified immunity,” which shields public officials from damages for personal liability if the law is not “clearly established.” The court cited a 2011 district court decision finding that LACCD’s free speech area policy did not violate the First Amendment rights of non-students in holding that administrators could not be held individually responsible for restricting Shaw’s rights.
Shaw is represented by FIRE and co-counsel Arthur Willner, a partner at Leader & Berkon LLP.
“The court’s ruling sends an important message to colleges nationwide that still restrict student speech to free speech zones,” said FIRE Director of Litigation Marieke Tuthill Beck-Coon. “The campus is a college student’s public square. It’s their space to be engaged citizens. The public recognizes this. So do courts across the country. Now it’s time for LACCD to follow suit.”
One twitter suggested post for other students at Campus Reform.org:
“This decision sends a clear signal to all university administrators that mistakenly believe they can create rules that supersede the Constitution.”
Just as I was beginning to despair, a light shone brightly through the dark…
Pierce College has learned that our courts will stand for freedom of speech and the college cannot threaten, intimidate, nor demand a lawsuit be dropped against them for their actions.
Finally, there is hope as students have begun to legally take their conservative values to court to challenge the leftist idiocy that has abounded over the last several years.
For years this has been a major tactic of the Left – take a topic to court for a ruling then intimidate the he#l out of conservatives and law-abiding citizens. It looks like conservative millennials are learning from their encounters and using the same in reverse. This is the best way to counter their measures – take it through the legal system to reverse or clarify the decisions or opinions that may affect court cases for years to come.
Also equally as important, we are finding at least one judge in California is standing up for the constitution and the rule of law. Could there be more just being silenced or gagged by the Left?
More lawsuits might follow as conservative students encouraged by such lawsuits are getting fed up with the fear and bullying on campuses. Education has been ignoring the very thing they say they are protecting through actions like setting up designated free speech zones away from the “safe campus spaces.”
It seems to most of us that the wheels are turning slowly on stopping the idiocy that has occurred in, around, and on college campuses over the last few years. Admittedly it has only been in the last year that some have been encouraged to take back their rights.
Now as more are becoming aware of the anti-conservative bias, the infestation of communism in our places of supposedly “higher” learning as well as government, and see the results of Leftist prolonged attacks on our freedoms, we have to take heart, encourage younger conservatives in their legal efforts, and continue to fight as we see this trend hopefully reversing.
I have to wonder how my own parents viewed my college days during the Sixties and Seventies. The cycle repeats and grows more vicious until the pattern is actively changed.