On Wednesday, California District Court rejected a motion to dismiss a lawsuit against Los Angeles Pierce College and the Los Angeles Community College District on the grounds of First Amendment violations.
Pierce College is a part of the largest community college district in the United States, the Los Angeles Community College District, yet it provides only .003 percent of its 426-acre campus to exercise free expression. In November 2016, Pierce College student and Young Americans for Liberty member Kevin Shaw was handing out copies of the U.S. Constitution when he was approached by a campus administrator and told he could not distribute literature outside of the free speech zone, a space of approximately 616 square feet. Shaw filed a lawsuit against Los Angeles Community College District with the help of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education and co-counsel Arthur Willner, a partner at Leader & Berkon LLP, on March 28, 2017.
LA Pierce asked the court to dismiss the case on the grounds of their campus policy, but the court ruled that open spaces on LA Pierce’s campus are public forums, “regardless of Pierce’s regulations." Thus, the policy regarding the free speech zone is moot.
The purpose of a university is to encourage free and open discourse and a healthy exchange of ideas. In a press release, FIRE Director of Litigation Marieke Tuthill Beck-Coon said, “The campus is a college student’s public square. It’s their space to be engaged citizens. The public recognizes this. So do courts across the country. Now it’s time for LACCD to follow suit.”
Since the motion to dismiss was pre-discovery and was rejected, now the case will move into discovery and proceed forward.
A statement by LACCD spokesman Yusef Robb contends that the college actually promotes free speech.
“We do not comment on pending litigation. We are fully committed to free expression on our campuses. As a community college district, promoting the free exchange of ideas and knowledge is at the core of what we do, every day," says Robb.
Young Americans for Liberty finds this to be quite the contradiction, however.
“For whatever reason Pierce College believes that they are the gatekeeper to the First Amendment on campus, when in fact there is no gate,” Young Americans for Liberty director of free speech Alexander Staudt told Red Alert Politics. “This order is just further proof that campus administrators cannot legislate above the Constitution and get away with it.”
Andrea Fabián-Checkai a student at University of Wisconsin-Whitewater, studying international studies with a focus in public diplomacy. She is a Media Ambassador and Chapter President for Young Americans for Liberty.