Glendora, CA – Citrus Community College is one of many universities in the nation that contains a “Free Speech Area.” This area is a designated space on campus; where students can set up booths, hand out pamphlets, and host speeches concerning the things they are passionate about.
While expressing one’s views may be encouraged inside a “Free Speech Area,” it is not welcomed in the same way in other areas around campus. Vincenzo Sinapi-Riddle learned this lesson the hard way last year, when he started a petition against the National Security Agency’s spying program. According to Sinapi-Riddle, he was approached by an administrator, who warned him that he was outside of the designated zone and could be removed from campus.
“It was shocking to me that there could be so much hostility about me talking to another student peacefully about government spying,” Sinapi-Riddle told the Los Angeles Times. “My vision of college was to express what I think.”
Sinapi-Riddle recently filed a lawsuit against the Citrus Community College District, with the intent to eliminate speech codes and any other policies that limit expression on campus. His lawsuit is sponsored by the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, a group that promotes free speech and due process rights at colleges and universities.
In addition to contesting the concept of the “Free Speech Area,” Sinapi-Riddle is also challenging the school’s anti-harassment policy, calling it “overly broad.” He added that although Citrus College eliminated all free speech zones after being sued in 2004, last year it “readopted in essence the unconstitutional policy it abandoned.”
Sinapi-Riddle has the support of the First Amendment Center’s President, and Middle Tennessee State University’s Dean, Ken Paulson, who called the legal movement “right on the money and long overdue.”
“Universities are scared of people who demand censorship – they’re afraid of lawsuits and PR problems,” said Robert Shibley, the Senior Vice President of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education. “Unfortunately, they are more worried about that than about ignoring their First Amendment responsibilities.”