Robert Van Tuinen, a student at Modesto Junior College in California, had a theory. He believed that the policies at his college limiting protests and expression were so restrictive that the college would try to shut him down even if he tried to hand out copies of the United States Constitution on September 17--Constitution Day.
Sadly, he was correct.
Not 10 minutes after Van Tuinen began handing out copies of the Constitution, a campus police officer arrived to stop him. Van Tuinen was informed that anytime someone wants to pass out anything on campus, it must first be registered and approved by the Student Development office.
A press release issued by the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education describes what happened next:
Upon arriving at that office, Van Tuinen talks with administrator Christine Serrano, who tells him that because of "a time, place, and manner," he can only pass out literature inside the "free speech area," which she informs him is "in front of the student center, in that little cement area." She asks him to fill out an application and asks to photocopy his student ID. Hauling out a binder, Serrano says that she has "two people on campus right now, so you'd have to wait until either the 20th, 27th, or you can go into October." ...
Ultimately, Serrano, after a phone call to an unnamed person in which she says that Van Tuinen "just wants to question the authority of why can't he hand out constitutional-type of papers," tells him he will have to make an appointment with Vice President of Student Services Brenda Thames, so that she can further explain to him "what the time, place, and manner is."One wonders if Modesto Junior College employs an attorney, or even a law school dropout who has taken a beginning constitutional law class. It is clear that Modesto officials have no concept of how "time, place, and manner" restrictions on free speech work. While time, place, and manner restrictions can be imposed on speech, those restrictions have to be very narrowly tailored to serve a compelling interest of the university. A university, for example, could possibly prohibit political rallies in the common areas of dorms where students might be sleeping or studying. But a college cannot use time, place and manner restrictions to limit free speech to a tiny section of the campus or to require that speakers wanted to exercise their free speech rights get approved in advance.
Hopefully Modesto learns its lesson and revises its unconstitutional free speech policies. If not, the university is likely to get sued, and deservedly so.
Note: Click on the "that little cement area" link to see how tiny Modesto's free speech area is in comparison to the size of the campus.