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Lawsuit against college for blocking distribution of U.S. Constitution moves forward

Backed by Justice Department

A student at Pierce College in California who claims the college violated his free speech rights by ordering him to cease handing out Spanish-language copies of the U.S. Constitution is getting closer to his day in court.

The civil case is currently in the discovery phase, an important step as the lawsuit winds its way through the system, CNS News reports. This development comes after a federal judge earlier this year refused to toss out the lawsuit against college.

The judge had said plaintiff Kevin Shaw had met the “injury in fact” standard required to bring suit, even though the college hadn’t punished him after he stopped distributing Constitutions outside its tiny free-speech zone.

Shaw (picturedfiled the lawsuit in spring 2017 after he was told to stop by a college administrator because he was not in the campus’s designated “Free Speech Area,” a zone that reportedly measures 616 square feet, a tiny section of the 426-acre campus.

He was also informed that he had to fill out a permit to use the Free Speech Area, which he was not able to obtain until “weeks later,” according to the complaint.

The lawsuit, filed in partnership with the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, claims restricting speech on campus to free speech zones is “unconstitutionally vague and broad.”

It serves as the first lawsuit in FIRE’s Million Voices litigation campaign, which seeks to protect the First Amendment rights of a million American college students.

The suit alleges that Pierce College maintains “a complex regime of polices and practices that quarantine students who, like Shaw, wish to exercise their First Amendment rights, to tiny spaces on District campuses.”

Last fall, the Department of Justice issued a “statement of interest” supporting Shaw’s lawsuit. The statement argues: “Pierce College’s ban on speech beyond the 616-square-foot Free Speech Area is, in any case, an invalid time, place, and manner restriction.”

The case also got a high-profile plug last week when Attorney General Jeff Sessions cited it in a speech to a group of conservative high school students.

“How big was [Pierce College’s] free speech zone? … [B]arely the size of a couple of college dorm rooms. Outside of that space, students did not have freedom of speech,” Sessions said. “The student sued and we stepped in on his behalf in the case.”

MORE: College stops Spanish speakers from reading Constitution: lawsuit

MORE: Hold administrators accountable for campus free speech

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