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Higher Education

Pierce College student files 'free speech zone' lawsuit

Kevin Shaw (Dawn Bowery/FIRE)
Kevin Shaw (Dawn Bowery/FIRE)

Kevin Shaw, a student at Pierce College in Woodland Hills, was trying to hand out copies of the U.S. Constitution on campus last fall.

But he was stopped, he said, by an administrator who told him he could not distribute literature outside a small area the campus designated as a "free speech zone." He also was told he needed a permit to use the free speech zone and would be removed from campus if he refused to comply, Shaw said in a statement. 

On Tuesday, Shaw filed a lawsuit against Pierce College and the nine-campus Los Angeles Community College District alleging that the restrictions were a violation of his 1st Amendment right to free speech. Shaw is challenging both Pierce College's restrictions and a districtwide policy that requires all campuses to designate at least one free speech zone. 

"This fight is about a student’s right to engage in free thinking and debate while attending college in America,” Shaw said in a statement.

A Pierce College spokeswoman referred calls to the Los Angeles Community College District. Yusef Robb, a consultant to the district, declined to comment on the lawsuit but said the district "firmly stands behind every student's right to free expression."

Officials at other colleges with such zones have defended them as reasonable measures to avoid harassment of students and disruption of campus operations.  

The lawsuit was the first volley in a new national litigation campaign against campus free speech zones by the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education. The Million Voices Campaign builds on the Philadelphia-based foundation's previous efforts to take on free speech restrictions at Citrus College and other campuses.

Shaw's campus group, Young Americans for Liberty, also has launched a national effort to remove free speech restrictions at colleges and universities.


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