Two University of Hawaii at Hilo students are suing the school for allegedly violating their First Amendment rights when a UH official told them they couldn’t distribute copies of the Constitution at an outdoor event on campus.
The complaint was filed in federal court yesterday.
The students, Merritt Burch and Anthony Vizzone, are members of Young Americans for Liberty and were handing out the documents on behalf of the group.
The school official told the students that campus policy limits such activity to a so-called free-speech zone, which according to the lawsuit is a .3-acre area that “slopes downward towards a muddy ravine.” UH Hilo’s campus spans across 115 acres.
Burch and Vizzone were also told that students need to request permission from the school a week before they intend to engage in “expressive activities” in two other designated areas at the center of the campus.
The alleged incident mirrors a similar case at California’s Modesto Junior College in which students were blocked from handing out copies of the Constitution on campus. The students, with the help of the same law firm representing Burch and Vizzone, took home a $50,000 settlement.
The university released this statement in response to the lawsuit:
The University of Hawaii is committed to free expression and the open exchange of ideas.
This case involves the application of specific policies on one of our campuses that were implemented to protect those values while preserving the educational environment for all students. The policies were developed in a manner completely independent of any specific viewpoint, perspective or content.