Kevin Shaw, 27, contends the Woodland Hills community college violated his civil rights when he was barred from passing out copies of the U.S. Constitution because he wasn’t in the free speech zone — an outdoor area roughly the size of three parking spaces — and because he hadn’t applied in advance to use it.
While not commenting directly on the lawsuit filed in Los Angeles federal court, an LACCD spokesman said the district backs the free speech rights of its students.
“The Los Angeles Community College District firmly stands behind every student’s right to free expression,” Yusef Robb said. “We have no further comment on the lawsuit at this time.”
On some college campuses, students and outsiders are allowed to protest and distribute flyers only in the so-called free speech zones. Pierce College is one of nine schools in the LACCD, which is the largest community college district in the United States, serving more than 150,000 students.
According to the complaint, Shaw attempted last November to distribute Spanish-language copies of the U.S. Constitution and recruit new members for the Young Americans for Liberty chapter at the school. The group describes itself as a libertarian-conservative youth organization.
Shaw says he was approached by a Pierce administrator who told him that he could not distribute literature outside the campus free speech zone, a tiny part of the 426-acre campus. If he refused to comply, Shaw was told he would be asked to leave campus, according to his court papers.
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.
“I had no idea I would be called upon to defend those very ideals against Pierce’s unconstitutional campus policies,” he said. “This fight is about a student’s right to engage in free thinking and debate while attending college in America.”
In addition to challenging Pierce College’s free speech zone and permit requirement, the lawsuit also challenges an LACCD policy that requires the president of each college in the community college district to designate at least one free speech zone on their campus.
The lawsuit asks the court to strike down policies at Pierce and the district that limit free speech, and seeks unspecified monetary damages.
–City News Service
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