Hawaii Students File Lawsuit for Violation of First Amendment Rights


Merritt Burch and Anthony Vizzone, two undergraduate students at University of Hawaii, Hilto, are suing the school for alleged violation of their First Amendment rights. The federal lawsuit filed in Honolulu Thursday, claimed that the plaintiffs were blocked from delivering copies of the U.S. Constitution outside a designated free-speech zone, January 2014.

At a University-sponsored event  the students and other members of the UH Hilo chapter of Young Americans for Liberty walked up to the center of the campus plaza and asked fellow campus community members to visit their stall for a copy of the constitution as their stall was installed at the far end of the corner.

The lawsuit states that the director of student affairs ordered the students to wait near their stall instead of approaching students and soliciting information. Burch told the school's student leadership development coordinator that the free-speech zone was located in an area with lesser traffic. "'This isn't really the '60s anymore. People can't really protest like that anymore, times have really changed since the movement back then,'" the staff member replied to Burch, the garden island reports.

According to the student handbook, campus groups are prohibited from soliciting people in a public setting.

The lawsuit says that the school curbs the rights of student organizations and speech in open areas of campus. Free-speech zone constitutes just 0.26 percent of the 115-acre campus.

The school "unconstitutionally restricts access to open areas on campus by requiring students to seek permission to speak at least seven business days in advance," Attorney Bob Corn-Revere, the student's lawyer, said, Reuters reports.

Corn-Revere said that at the campus the free-speech zone was situated far from places where students generally like to assemble. He said that there are several campuses across the country that have similar free speech zone policies.

The lawsuit has named the University of Hawaii system, Interim President David Lassner and several Hilo administrators as defendants. Through the lawsuit, the plaintiffs are seeking monetary damages and a ban on school's speech codes and enforcement practices.

The university said that the school encourages freedom of expression and exchange of ideas. The officials have promised a thorough review of its policy enforcement to protect freedom of expression and First Amendment rights on campus and across the University of Hawai'i System,

"This case involves the application of specific policies ... that were implemented to protect those values while preserving the educational environment for all students," the university said. "The policies were developed in a manner completely independent of any specific viewpoint, perspective or content."

The Hawaii lawsuit is the second lawsuit this year involving violation of First Amendment rights. A Modesto Junior College suit involved a student who also attempted to distribute copies of the Constitution.

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