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UH-Hilo Issues New Policy in Response to Lawsuit

May 15, 2014, 1:43 PM HST (Updated May 15, 2014, 1:45 PM)
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A lawsuit filed last month accusing the University of Hawaii at Hilo of infringing on students’ constitutional rights has prompted the university to adopt an interim policy on speech and assembly.

The new rules will be in effect while the university explores permanent policy changes, Jodi Leong, a spokeswoman for the University of Hawaii system, said in a statement.

“UH Hilo is committed to the free and open exchange of ideas,” said UH-Hilo Chancellor Don Straney. “The interim policy will ensure our students have that right while we continue our review of campus policies.”

University of Hawaii at Hilo Chancellor Donald Straney. UHH photo.

University of Hawaii at Hilo Chancellor Donald Straney. UHH photo.

According to the lawsuit filed in late April in federal court, students Merritt Burch and Anthony Vizzone were stopped in January from handing out copies of the UH Constitution during a university-sponsored event to present various student organizations.

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It said Burch and Vizzone, officers of the UH-Hilo chapter of Young Americans for Liberty, were told that university policy did allow them to leave their table to approach students.

The students said they were told, “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 lawsuit said that preventing the students from freely distributing written materials on campus and limiting their speech activities to certain areas violated the students’ rights under the First and Fourteenth Amendments.

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It seeks a declaration that the university and its officials violated the pair’s First Amendment rights as well as monetary damages to be determined and attorneys’ fees.

The lawsuit was filed by attorneys from the Washington DC-based law firm Davis Wright Tremain LLP, and by Honolulu attorney David Rosen.

Leong said since the lawsuit was filed, the university and the students’ attorneys have discussed ways to resolve the lawsuit which include possible permanent changes to policy and practices regarding speech and assembly on campus.

“The university hopes to resolve the lawsuit with the students,” the statement said.

An emailed request to Rosen for comment was not immediately returned.

The interim policy, which goes into effect today, is as follows:

1) UH-Hilo will implement Section 20-13-6 of the Administrative Rules for the University of Hawai‘i and Sections 10 and 11 of the Facilities Use Practice and Procedures, University of Hawai‘i at Hilo (July 1995) in a manner to permit student speech and assembly without first having to apply for or obtain permission from the University in all areas generally available to students and the community, defined as open areas, sidewalks, streets, or other similar common areas.

2) UH-Hilo will implement the solicitation policy as set forth in Section 20-13-7 of the Administrative Rules for the University of Hawai‘i and in Section 13 of the Facilities Use Practice and Procedures, University of Hawai‘i at Hilo (July 1995) in a manner to permit students to approach others on campus and to distribute non-commercial literature at UH-Hilo in all areas generally available to students and the community.

3) Notwithstanding the above, persons speaking, assembling, and/or distributing material shall not impede the progress of passersby.

4) Notwithstanding the above, no event, speech, demonstration, or other expressive activity on campus shall interfere with or disrupt the educational process or other scheduled activities of the campus or its facilities. This includes the use of any means of amplification that creates a noise or diversion that substantially disrupts the orderly conduct of the campus or classes taking place at that time.

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