POLITICS
09/20/2013 04:15 pm ET

College Student Told He Can't Hand Out Constitutions On Constitution Day (VIDEO)

Think this is constitutional?

A college student in California who was handing out free copies of the U.S. Constitution was told by campus officials that he wasn't allowed to do so without official permission. The incident occurred on Tuesday, Sept. 17, which happens to be Constitution Day.

When the student, Robert Van Tuinen, protested that his freedom of speech was being violated, Modesto Junior College administrator Christine Serrano told him he was perfectly free to hand out the booklets -- as long as he only did it in the "free speech area," a small piece of cement in front of the Student Center.

Oh, and he'd have to submit a photo ID and fill out an application, which might take a few weeks to process.

"Why can't I talk to my fellow students right now?" Tuinen asks in video of the incident. "I can't give them copies of the Constitution?"

Serrano responds by picking up the phone and telling an unidentified person that Tuinen "just wants to question the authority of why can't he hand out constitutional-type of papers." (The college declined to identify who Serrano was on the phone with.)

Linda Hoile, a spokeswoman for the college, told The Huffington Post that the school "is taking the issue very seriously," but she couldn't say whether the college planned to alter its free speech policies.

In a blog for HuffPost, Greg Lukianoff, the president of The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), which was the first to publicize the video, explains that colleges can place reasonable restrictions on the time and manner of free speech. But Modesto's behavior "does not pass this test or conform with basic common sense," he writes.

"People can distribute material in the areas generally available to students in the [college] community as long as they don't disrupt the orderly operation of the college," said a pre-recorded message on the college's phone machine. "In the case of the YouTube video, it did not appear that the student was disrupting the orderly operation of the college. Therefore we are looking into the matter."

(hat tip Mildandfire on Reddit)

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