Civil Rights

FIRE protects the free speech rights of 150,000 students

Kevin Shaw, photo courtesy of Dawn Bowery/FIRE.

The Philadelphia-based Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) — an Atlas Network partner — successfully defended the First Amendment in a recent case. This represents a win for 150,000 students attending Los Angeles Pierce College of the Los Angeles Community College District (LACCD). A student, Kevin Shaw, brought the lawsuit after being told he could not pass out Spanish-copies of the U.S. Constitution outside the designated free speech zone on campus. This was a direct violation of his First Amendment rights. Shaw was also asked to fill out a permit application to carry out his First Amendment rights in the 616-square foot free speech zone.

Kevin Shaw’s lawsuit was the first in FIRE’s Million Voices Campaign, which aims to free the voices of one million students by striking down unconstitutional speech codes across the country.

“More than two years ago, administrators wrongly told Kevin he was not allowed to hand out copies of the U.S. Constitution in the center of his public college campus,” said FIRE Director of Litigation Marieke Tuthill Beck-Coon. “He’s been standing up for his First Amendment rights every day since, and in the process has vindicated the rights of every student in the district.”

After the lawsuit was settled, the Los Angeles Community College District board of trustees decided to open the central areas of LACCD to free speech. The Department of Justice even filed a statement of interest, arguing that Shaw’s First Amendment rights were violated.

“Hopefully, this settlement will serve as a reminder to both students and their colleges that the free and open exchange of ideas on campus is a precious commodity to be celebrated rather than feared or restricted,” said Arthur Willner, a partner at Leader Berkon Colao & Silverstein and co-counsel with FIRE in the case. With these policy reforms at the district and Pierce College, the Million Voices Campaign will have freed the voices of over 250,000 students since its launch in 2017.

The mission of (FIRE) is to defend and sustain individual rights at America's colleges and universities. These rights include freedom of speech, legal equality, due process, religious liberty, and sanctity of conscience — the essential qualities of individual liberty and dignity.