WOODLAND HILLS—On Tuesday, March 28, a student filed a lawsuit against Pierce College in Woodland Hills and the nine Los Angeles Community College District (LACCD) campuses, alleging that restrictions on free speech zones are unconstitutional and violate First Amendment rights.
In November 2016, Kevin Shaw, 27, was passing out copies of the U.S. Constitution to recruit new members for his campus group, Young Americans for Liberty, where he served as president. A campus administrator stopped him, saying literature could not be distributed outside the designated “free speech zone,” approximately 616 square feet in size, or roughly the size of three parking spaces. Shaw was told that he needed to apply for a permit in advance to use the free speech zone, and that he would be asked to leave the campus if he refused to comply.
“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.
In his lawsuit, Shaw contends that Pierce College violated his civil rights, including his right to free speech. He also challenges the LACCD requirement that the president of each college designate at least one free speech zone on respective campuses. The lawsuit asks the court to strike down the policies in the district that limit free speech and seeks monetary damages.
“This fight is about a student’s right to engage in free thinking and debate while attending college in America,” Shaw said.
Shaw’s lawsuit is supported by the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), whose Million Voices Campaign aims to “free one million student voices from unconstitutional speech codes nationwide,” according to their website.
“Students like Kevin go to college to learn and grow in conversation with their peers, but a free speech quarantine like Pierce’s threatens to punish students who speak their minds in the wrong place,” said FIRE Director of Litigation Marieke Tuthill Beck-Coon in a news release.
According to the Los Angeles Times, Yusef Robb, a consultant and spokesperson for the LACCD, did not comment directly on the lawsuit but said the district “firmly stands behind every student’s right to free expression.”