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University of Hawaii hit with free speech lawsuit

April 25, 2014 - 2:51pm

HONOLULU — Two University of Hawaii at Hilo students say the school violated their right to free speech by stopping them from distributing copies of the U.S. constitution outside a designated free-speech zone.

A federal lawsuit filed Thursday alleges the school excessively restricts the rights of student organizations and limits student speech in open areas of campus.

It says Hilo undergraduate Merritt Burch expressed concerns the free-speech zone was in an area with minimal pedestrian traffic.

The lawsuit says a university staff member replied, “‘This isn’t really the ’60s anymore’” and “‘people can’t really protest like that anymore.’”

The university said in a statement it’s committed to the free expression and open exchange of ideas. It says it has begun reviewing its policies and the way they were enforced.