Imagine: a student trying to oppose the NSA's Orwellian spying program is told by an official on the campus of public university that he cannot do so outside of the university's Orwellian (and tiny) "free speech zone."
I know, I know, I usually bristle at the use of "Orwellian" as well. It's invoked too often at too low a threshold, but here it is warranted. Both our overzealous spy agency and the term "free speech zone" being used to justify banning free speech from 99 percent of a campus do seem to come straight out of 1984....or, at least, the Comedy Central version of 1984.
And all of this Orwellian-ness happened to a student on - of all days - Constitution Day.
Constitution Day 2013 was a lousy day for free speech on California campuses. In one now-infamous case, a student at Modesto Junior College was told he could not hand out copies of the Constitution to honor the day. But that same day, at Citrus College, student Vincenzo Sinapi-Riddle was told he couldn't get signatures for his anti-NSA spying petition outside of the zone that made up a little more than 1% of the campus.
With the help of my organization, FIRE (the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education), and the good lawyers of Davis Wright Tremaine, both students sued. Modesto settled its First Amendment lawsuit. Meanwhile, amidst its lawsuit, Citrus College has suspended its speech-restrictive policies, but has not yet decided to make those changes permanent.
Citrus's resistance to doing the right thing is especially troubling given that the college had already been sued back in 2003, with the help of FIRE and ACLU attorney Carol Sobel, to get it to abandon its previous "free speech zone" policy. Back then, Citrus College signed a settlement agreement saying that it would get rid of its free speech zone policy and open up the campus to its First Amendment obligations.
Yesterday, FIRE released a video interview with the brave student, Vinny Sinapi-Riddle, who stood up to the speech code. It shows Vinny walking around campus and talking to students about his opposition to NSA spying even in areas outside of the free speech zone. As you can see, and as you might have guessed, the campus managed just fine without enforcing its unlawful speech code.
As I've said many times in my writings, most campuses (including 58 percent of public colleges) maintain unconstitutional speech codes even though these codes have been challenged dozens of times in court and judges have consistently overturned them. It's time for the decades-long scandal of campus speech codes to end.