Letter to the editor: Free Speech Area

On Sept. 26, 2017, Attorney General Jeff Sessions commented on current litigation regarding Pierce student Kevin Shaw and the school’s Free Speech Area.

Sessions said, “Many colleges now deign to ‘tolerate’ free speech only in certain, geographically limited, ‘free speech zones.’

Shaw filed a lawsuit against Pierce College, after he prohibited him from distributing Spanish-language copies of the U.S. Constitution outside the Free Speech Area.

According to the LACCD’s Board of Trustees Article IX rule, the Free Speech Area requires that campuses govern “the time, place and manner in which said areas are to be used” so that speech does not “disrupt the orderly operation of the college.”

Along with these restrictions, the 616 square foot Free Speech Area is the only location on campus where students can “distribute petitions, circulars, leaflets, newspapers and other materials,” including U.S. Constitutions, which state that government shall make “no law… abridging the freedom of speech.”

Ironically, Shaw, according to the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), was handing out U.S. Constitutions, and administration said that he would be escorted off-campus unless he submitted a permit application granting him access to the 616 square foot Free Speech Area.

Not only is this ironic, it is at least orwellian to call an area a Free Speech Area, if it requires speakers to submit a permit application, comply with the vague Article IX rules and be constricted to a geographically minuscule area.

Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens once said, “It is offensive in public discourse a citizen must first inform the government of their desire to speak… and then obtain a permit to do so.”

With national attention directed at Pierce, the college has become the center of a growing controversy over academia’s treatment of the First Amendment.

Shaw told me, “Free speech is constantly being trampled on college campuses. Students are the last line of defense against these increasingly authoritarian policies.”