The very fact that a campus has a two-person free speech zone troubles Robert Shibley, senior vice president for the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, which has aided Van Tuinen in the free speech lawsuit he filed against the college.
"We're seeing a lack of a sense of proportion," quoth Shibley, "and frankly a fundamental fear of free speech that is very disturbing to see in higher education."
At community colleges, Shibley added, many students have to balance an academic workload and jobs; they don't have time to occupy the quad or save the trees. That makes Van Tuinen unique.
And it makes the Modesto Junior College policy all that much harder to understand. It's 2013; college staff members should understand the sanctity of free speech. Instead, they only saw procedures set out in overly nuanced language that was burped out of committee and based on bland advice from an academic league. Oddly, it seems the policy's goal was to avoid controversy, not accommodate the exchange of ideas.
Amazingly, college administrators still haven't figured out that they cannot win this case because their policies step on First Amendment rights. And yes, they are running a college.
Van Tuinen told me he found out about the free speech zone about a week before U.S. Constitution Day. He said he had hoped he would be able to distribute copies of the Constitution, provided by The Heritage Foundation, without interference but brought along a camera just in case.
You could say that Van Tuinen was trolling for trouble. But if handing out copies of the U.S. Constitution without intruding on the liberty of others attracts school security, this country is in trouble.
As the woman in student development succinctly put it: Um, why?