Mikael Thalen
Sept. 20, 2013

A student at the Modesto Junior College in California was confronted by campus police Tuesday and told to stop passing out U.S. Constitutions to fellow students. Ironically, Tuesday was also Constitution Day.

“I was really stunned when they told me that I had to ask for permission to pass out Constitutions on campus,” Robert Van Tuinen told Storyleak.

Throughout the cell phone recording, Van Tuinen, who also spent six years in the Army, can be seen attempting to get the officer to explain why rules and regulations dictate his first amendment right to free speech on public property. The officer went on to claim that students needed to be registered with the Student Development office to pass out any information at school, including the U.S. Constitution. Van Tuinen agreed to follow the officer inside to learn what requirements were needed to have constitutional rights as a student at MJC.

Once inside, Van Tuinen informed the officer that he planned on starting a student organization called Young Americans for Liberty. The officer unsuccessfully attempted to tie Van Tuinen to the Heritage Foundation, the group that produced his Constitution pamphlets.

“I’m telling you where to go, I’m giving you a solution. I’m not trying to stop you from doing it, I am telling you that there is a process,” the officer said.

“Well you are stopping me from doing it…” Van Tuinen answered.

The officer went on to claim that Van Tuinen, who was visibly passionate about the situation, was “not in control of his emotions,” showing the officer’s lax attitude toward constitutional violations.

After being escorted into the office of administrator Christine Serrano, Van Tuinen was informed that he not only needed to fill out paperwork to gain his first amendment, but if approved, would also need to pass out his Constitutions in a specific “time, place and manner.”

Serrano went on to explain that such actions could only be performed in the school’s “free speech area,” a tiny section of cement in front of the student center. Unfortunately, Van Tuinen would also have to wait several days until the plot of cement had an opening as the area can only be permitted so much free speech per day.

Serrano also asked why Van Tuinen would pass out the Constitution, seemingly finding the action bizarre. Serrano, surprised to learn it was Constitution Day and upset by Van Tuinen’s “questioning of authority,” referred him to another superior to have the same rules and regulations presented.

In defense of Va Tuinen, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) has now presented the school with a letter, demanding the student’s rights be upheld on campus.

A section of the letter reads:

“FIRE is gravely concerned by the threat to free speech presented by Modesto Junior College’s (MJC’s) repeated violations of the First Amendment rights of students attempting to distribute copies of the United States Constitution on campus. FIRE possesses video evidence of multiple MJC employees informing the students that they were prohibited from distributing copies of the Constitution unless they applied for a permit to do so, and that they were only allowed to distribute them in a small campus “free speech area.” MJC must immediately reject its shockingly unconstitutional censorship and reform its policies in compliance with its First Amendment obligations.”

The school has not yet responded to FIRE’s inquiry.

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