University Bars Students From Handing Out Constitutions

They were reminded that their campus has a “free speech zone” where such activities could be engaged in, in compliance with the school policy, which apparently trumps the 1st Amendment. This “free speech zone” sits on the edge of campus on a tiny, muddy slope that’s prone to flooding. So, if they want to do anything like hand out official founding documents such as the U.S. Constitution or the Declaration of Independence, they can feel free to hand them out in a place no one will frequent.

Students with the University of Hawaii (in Hilo) chapter of the Young Americans for Liberty (YAL) were the culprits involved in attempting to exercise their rights guaranteed by the document they were trying to hand out to fellow students. The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) filed a federal lawsuit on these students’ behalf:

The complaint alleges that on January 16, 2014, plaintiff Merritt Burch, who is president of the UH Hilo chapter of Young Americans for Liberty (YAL), and a fellow student YAL member were participating in an outdoor event where student groups set up tables to distribute literature. Observing other students walking around and handing out items, Burch and her friend walked out from behind YAL’s table to likewise hand out Constitutions and YAL information cards. A UH Hilo administrator ordered Burch and her companion to stop approaching students and get back behind their table, dismissing Burch’s protest about her constitutional rights.

A week later, in an orientation meeting for student organizations, another administrator reiterated the rule against passing out literature. Burch and Vizzone were told that if they wanted to protest, the proper place to do so would be in UH Hilo’s “free speech zone,” a sloping, one-third acre area on the edge of campus. The “free speech zone” represents approximately 0.26% of UH Hilo’s total area and is muddy and prone to flooding in Hilo’s frequent rain. The administrator further observed, “This isn’t really the ’60s anymore” and “people can’t really protest like that anymore.”

Burch and Vizzone are challenging the denial of their right to hand out literature and policies restricting the distribution of literature. The suit also challenges UH Hilo’s “free speech zone,” a separate policy requiring students to request permission seven working days prior to engaging in expressive activity in two central outdoor areas on campus, and the failure of UH Hilo officials to adequately train administrators on the rights of college students.

Officials are claiming that it didn’t have as much to do with Constitutional rights as it did the school’s policy on “approaching other students.” They’re using that vague policy as an excuse to bar YAL students from handing out the Constitution. If it was some LGBT group handing out literature, it would be different.