The Cougar Chronicle

LA college free speech lawsuit won’t affect CSUSM policy

Jadan Smithers, Assistant News Editor

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CSUSM officials are aware of a recent lawsuit by a Los Angeles community college student against his school for allegedly violating his First Amendment rights by enforcing its free speech zone policy.

In the lawsuit, student Kevin Shaw from Pierce College says that in November 2016 school officials stopped him from handing out Spanish copies of the U.S. Constitution because he was outside of the campus’ designated free speech zone.

The Los Angeles Community College District, including Pierce College and eight other colleges, have a free speech policy that confines all speech activities to its campus’ free speech zones, according to a court document filed by Shaw’s lawyers. All speech activities also require a permit.

This has been the policy of the Los Angeles Community College District since 1989. Pierce College, located in the Woodland Hills area of Los Angeles, asked the federal district court to dismiss

Shaw’s case. On Jan. 17, the court denied the motion, keeping the litigation alive. CSUSM Communications Specialist Eric Breier said that while CSUSM is aware of Shaw’s case, it has de- clined to make a statement in response to the filings.

The public assembly policy at CSUSM encourages free speech activities to take place in the campus’ free speech zone. The university’s policy states that “those intending to use this space should inform the University Police Department at least 48 hours in advance of the purpose, time and estimated size of the assembly. However, failure to notify shall not be grounds for denial of access to the free speech and assembly area.”

The zone is located “in front of University Hall, 60 feet from the front steps of the building extending to the corner of Starbucks” and “the space in front of the Craven Rotunda on the third floor up the stairs to the fourth level of Craven,” according to the policy.

However, speech activities may happen in other spots on campus.

“Students and employees may use university buildings, facilities and other services in conformity with approved policies and procedures,” Breier said. CSUSM “may establish reasonable time, place and manner regulations,” to prevent the rights of other individuals and groups from being infringed upon, as well as to prevent the disruption of  “the educational process or other operations of the University,” he said.

Dr. Stephan Hoover, a CSUSM Political Science professor and constitutional law expert said that the policies at CSUSM are constitutional.

“You can restrict speech if the purpose isn’t purely to restrict speech,” Dr. Hoover said. Legitimate purposes for restricting speech on campus can include public safety, flow of foot traffic or preventing littering and noise distractions, Dr. Hoover said.When asked specifically about the Pierce College case, Dr. Hoover said, “restrictions on free speech outside of the zone are probably going to be kicked down…there’s not much right to restrict free speech unless it’s for a purpose.”

The organization providing assistance with Shaw’s lawsuit, the Foundation of Individual Rights in Education, gives colleges and universities speech code ratings based on the organization’s “opinion of the degree to which free speech is curtailed at a particular institution.” CSUSM receives a “yellow light rating” for having an “ambiguous policy that too easily encourages administrative abuse and arbitrary application.”

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