Justice Dept. Adds Support to Student in California Free Speech Case

Image: Kevin Shaw
Kevin ShawDawn Bowery / FIRE

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By Associated Press

WASHINGTON — The Justice Department is expressing support for a California college student who is challenging the constitutionality of a so-called "free speech zone" on his campus.

The department on Tuesday filed a statement of interest in the case of Kevin Shaw, who sued Pierce College in Los Angeles. Shaw says administrators barred him from distributing Spanish-language copies of the U.S. constitution outside of a 616-square-foot area on campus.

Kevin ShawDawn Bowery / FIRE

Students must obtain prior authorization from campus officials by submitting a permit application in order to use the area, the Justice Department said in a statement. The college also maintains unpublished rules governing free speech, which the Justice Department says students are not made aware of until they obtain a permit application.

The Justice Department argues that Pierce College's speech policies are unconstitutional and do not constitute valid time, place and manner restrictions for free speech.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions has lamented political correctness run amok on college campuses and promised to support students who say university policies are hindering free speech. Sessions says university officials and faculty must defend free expression "boldly and unequivocally."

“University officials and faculty must defend free expression boldly and unequivocally," Sessions said in a statement. "Last month, I promised a recommitment to free speech on campus and to ensuring First Amendment rights. The Justice Department continues to do its part in defending free speech, protecting students’ free expression, and enforcing federal law.”

The department last month also offered support for a Georgia college student who says he was wrongly prevented from preaching outside certain areas on campus.

Pete Williams contributed.