LA college sued over free speech zone

Courtesy of PETTUS
Free Speech zones are not limited to college campuses. Above is a photo from the free speech zone at a democratic 2004 convention.

Six hundred and sixteen square feet have been set aside as a free speech zone in a California college.

Recently a college student in Los Angeles, California, began the process of suing The Los Angeles Community College District for the policy enacted by Pierce College which he claimed violated his free speech rights.

The school had set aside a free speech zone of 616 square feet, the equivalent to three parking spaces, according to Fox News. Kevin Shaw violated the free speech zone rule by handing out constitutions beyond the allotted space. The student issued a statement which in part said, “I had no idea I would be called upon to defend those very ideals against Pierce’s unconstitutional campus policies.”

Freedom of speech in schools has been a contentious topic, with many cases winding up in the Supreme Court of the United States. Overall, the court has found that students still have their rights, but are subject to more restrictions.

Randy Hollingsworth, professor of communication at John Brown University, said a free speech zone is designed to be a public square for “people to express ideas.” They were created to allow advocacy,while limiting distracations when administrators don’t want them.

The practice of free speech zone allows the campus to have more control of protest on their campus, he said. Free speech zones will vary from state to state and even school to school. He said “There are few overarching rules” that apply to the entire nation.

Payton Hubbard, junior management major at John Brown University, said that he opposes free speech zones.

Hubbard said that he can understand the desire to regulate speech in classroom, however he does not believe that would give the campus license to set aside a different zone.

Riley Weaver, sophomore accounting major, disagreed. She said that though she is interested in the issue of free speech, she believes “the institution has the right to regulate” a student’s speech.

Hollingsworth explained that most free speech zones are a negative result of free speech. This has caused some schools to have a very limited free speech zones.

He said the strongest examples about free speech regulation can be found during times of war. During the Vietnam War, A high school attempted to regulate protest against the war, however the Supreme court ruled against this.

He said it is possible to see stricter free speech zones with the violence that is occurring. He mentioned Berkley and Oakland in the 1960s and 70s where they fought for the freedom from suppression in a very peaceful way. However, he said now there is more violence with protesting.

Hollingsworth said this may lead to a knee-jerk reaction with administrators to create a policy to prevents this. He suggests a person that sees a free speech zone regulation as something ridiculous should look into the history of the school and see why administrators voted for the regulations.

Hollingsworth said he found it ironic that free speech zones are common on college campuses because they are often viewed as a sanctuary of academic thought and a marketplace for “controversial ideas.”