Last week, on March 28, Kevin Shaw filed a lawsuit against Pierce College and the Los Angeles Community College District (LACCD). A student at Pierce, Shaw is suing his school believing that his First Amendment rights were violated on his campus. Pierce College is one of nine schools within the LACCD, in which roughly 150,000 college students receive an education. Quite clearly, this lawsuit will have major implications regarding free speech rights on college campuses.
Details of the Lawsuit
As written in Shaw’s lawsuit, “The [LACCD] designates the majority of each of its nine community college campuses as non-public forums. The president of each college is required to create ‘Free Speech Area(s),’ which the [LACCD] designates as limited public forums.” Also known as a free speech zone, the free speech area at Pierce College was generously designed by the school’s administration to encompass 616 square feet near a campus roadway. Apparently, the administration at Pierce College finds it acceptable to allow only .003% of Pierce College’s 426-acre campus to be set aside for students to express themselves freely. As the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education writes, “for perspective, if Pierce College were the size of a tennis court, the area where students are allowed to exercise their constitutional rights would be smaller than a standard iPhone.”
However, as indicated in Shaw’s lawsuit, Pierce takes its repressive speech measures even further: “Pierce College has also adopted and enforced other policies and practices that severely restrict free speech and expressive activity, including an apparently unpublished requirement that students like Shaw seek and complete a permit application before being granted access to use the tiny Free Speech Area.”
So what evil act did Shaw commit to violate his school’s anti-free speech policies? In November of 2016, Shaw sought to distribute copies of the United States Constitution, written in Spanish, and recruit more members for his Young Americans for Liberty student chapter on campus. Shaw, however, was operating outside of Pierce College’s designed zone for free speech, and he had also not applied for a permit to express himself in that zone. Thankfully the students of Pierce College were saved from Shaw’s immoral acts when a college administrator came up to him and told him to cease his actions or prepare to be removed from campus.
Shaw’s Statement on the Lawsuit
In response to these circumstances, Shaw has given the following statement: “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 … I had no idea I would be called upon to defend those very ideals against Pierce’s unconstitutional campus policies. This fight is about a student’s right to engage in free thinking and debate while attending college in America.”
TCC will be sure to follow this story closely.