Your Free Speech Time Slot is Friday, October 11

This story, via Popehat, is so mindboggling I even found myself doubting Ken White’s veracity for a moment. But there’s actual video footage (below).

A student at Modesto Community College wanted to hand out copies of the Constitution on Constitution day (Sept. 17), and is told that he has to have permission to hand out any kind of literature on this public college campus. So he was directed to the Student Services office where he can apply for permission (5 days required for processing the application, it seems) and where he is told that the campus’s limited free speech zone, “that little cement area” as the college official describes it, is currently being used, so he will have to wait until “the 20th, the 27th, or you can go into October.” (The 20th and 27th are Fridays, but I’m not sure if those are the only days open or if free speech is only allowed on Fridays.)

According to the school official:

We have a time, place, manner. It’s a time, place, and manner; that’s what it’s called. And that’s the free speech area, and the free speech area is over there in front of the student center, in that little cement area. That’s the time, place, and manner free speech area for anybody that’s going to be on campus, which comes through my office and they would need to fill out an application. And I would need to have a photo of your ID. You can read these guidelines and procedures. No problem. We’re not telling you you can’t, you just need to follow the guidelines.

Incredibly, officials at Modesto Community College seem to think that the time, place and manner restrictions doctrine means you can restrict free speech to a narrowly defined time, place and manner, rather than those being narrow exceptions to the general right to free speech. Using a bullhorn while walking down the hallways of a building where classes are in progress can probably be restricted. Restricting speech to just one of the areas that won’t be disruptive to classes, and requiring a permit in order to have the opportunity to exercise your constitutional right? Come on, I’m as down on academic administrators as any college prof, but are they really that stupid? Or did they just hope they could get away with it?

The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education has already sent a letter to Modesto Junior College’s president.

While a college may establish a “reasonable time, place and manner” restriction…there is nothing whatsoever “reasonable” about demanding that students obtain administrative permission simply to distribute materials on a public area of the MJC campus, making students wait a minimum of five business days to be granted the right to speak, and then isolating their expression to a single small area of campus… Time and again, courts have determined that to be considered legal, “time, place and manner” restrictions must be “narrowly tailored” to serve a significant governmental interest, leaving open ample alternative channels for communication. MJC’s censorship of Van Tuinen’s expression fails to meet each of these requirements—and by a huge margin. Further, the bureaucratic processes MJC students must endure to exercise their First Amendment rights offend our fundamental free speech traditions. As the Supreme Court declared in Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of NY, Inc. v. Village of Stratton, “It is offensive—not only to the values protected by the First Amendment, but to the very notion of a free society—that in the context of everyday public discourse a citizen must first inform the government of her desire to speak to her neighbors and then obtain a permit to do so.”

Here’s the really shocking part, gleaned from FIRE’s letter.

[The Community College District’s] Time, Place & Manner policy…states, “The Colleges of the District are non-public forums, except for designated areas generally available to students and the community.”

Hallelujah! With the stroke of a pen a government agency can simply declare public property a non-public forum. Maybe I can get my city council to declare the sidewalk in front of my house a non-public forum, so next time my crazy neighbor starts ranting about Obama I can call the police on him.

Sigh. Shouldn’t shit like this affect their accreditation or their authority to receive public funding? Shouldn’t it?

Here’s the video the student shot. Notice the typical dickish behavior of the cop; his insistence on belittling the student and making himself appear superior and his authority to take this action not subject to question. He also lies about who the student represents (1:18), and of course he doesn’t think there’s any violation of the student’s free speech rights (1:33). Cops who don’t know the law–that’s a pretty fundamental part of our problem.

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About J@m3z Aitch

J@m3z Aitch is a two-bit college professor who'd rather be canoeing.
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3 Responses to Your Free Speech Time Slot is Friday, October 11

  1. Dr X says:

    WTF? Is this some misguided attempt to regulate bigoted speech?

  2. J@m3z Aitch says:

    I suspect it’s some misguided attempt to make sure the campus is orderly and conflict-free. (That, of course, would include regulating bigoted speech.)

  3. Scott Hanley says:

    “That little cement area.” Heh. At Berkeley in ’64, they at least had all of Sproul Plaza. That wasn’t enough to ward off the FSM (Free Speech Movement, not the Flying Spaghetti Monster) from causing more disruption than if they’d just allowed free speech in the first place.

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