Student Prevented from Handing Out the Constitution… On Constitution Day

Greg Lukianoff and Robert Shibley of FIRE have come across a doozy of a free speech case–a Modesto Junior College student who was prevented from distributing copies of the Constitution on Constitution Day.

The student, a former Army veteran, recorded the incident.  Posted here.

One of the illuminating things about this video is the combination of cluelessness and arrogance of the petty bureaucrats that run student life on university campuses these days.  What a classic line that captures the whole incident in a nutshell (uttered by the university bureaucrat in charge of handing out the permits):  “[We have] two people on campus right now, so you’d have to wait until either the 20th, 27th, or you can go into October.”

FIRE and David Wright Tremaine are representing the student in a legal challenge.  More info here.

One of the real oddities of the entire speech code issue is the way in which these policies seem to come into being and then are implemented by university bureaucrats deep in the bowels of these massive student life bureaucracies on campus.  Although free speech obviously has important educational implications, faculty never get a chance to review and approve these policies.  They just emerge from some undifferentiated mass of student life bureaucrats.  At one point it is a “free speech zone” and some other day it arises as some vague anti-harassment policy.  It is like some sort of weed that is carried with this modern generation of professional deans from one campus to another and it just creeps up out of nowhere.  Rarely does it seem to be the case that faculty or senior administrators have approved or are even aware of the content of these policies.

I’ve actually been trying for years now to try to get George Mason’s speech code reformed and even though I’ve been assured repeatedly that the issue is taken care of it keeps smacking into a bureaucratic brick wall.  It is truly amazing how difficult it seems to be to beat this thing down.

We succeeded in getting Dartmouth’s speech code repealed finally (primarily thanks to TJ Rodgers’s indefatigable efforts) but it wasn’t until we made an issue out of it in repeated College trustee elections.  Which I guess illustrates the point about how immovable these bureaucracies are.  In Modesto’s case it looks like they are willing to even fight it in federal court.