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Student Sues Claiming Citrus College Violated Free-Speech Rights

LOS ANGELES (AP) — A student who claims his right to free expression was violated has sued Citrus College, one of four schools around the nation targeted by a free-speech group.

Vincenzo Sinapi-Riddle filed the federal suit Tuesday against Citrus Community College District. The 20-year-old alleges he was threatened with being tossed off the Glendora campus last fall for seeking petition signatures outside the school's designated "free-speech area," an area that represents less than 1 1/2 percent of campus.

He wanted people to sign a petition opposing spying by the National Security Agency.

"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."

His suit challenges college rules restricting petitioning, pamphleting and similar activities to the free-speech area, along with the campus anti-harassment policy and its two-week process for approving student group events.

The college eliminated the free-speech area after it was sued in 2003, but the policy was readopted by college trustees last year, according to Sinapi-Riddle's lawsuit.

College spokeswoman Paula Green said the school had not been formally served with the lawsuit and it would be premature to comment.

However, the school's free-speech policy says the campus is a "non-public forum" except for the designated area. The policy orders procedures to be enacted that "reasonably regulate" free expression to prevent disruption of college operations, the newspaper reported.

The suit and three others filed Tuesday around the nation were coordinated by Philadelphia-based Foundation for Individual Rights in Education. The nonprofit group's mission is to defend individual rights at colleges and universities, including free speech and religious liberty, according to its website.

The other lawsuits at schools in Iowa, Illinois and Ohio were filed on behalf of students or faculty members in an initiative the foundation said aimed to eliminate speech codes and other restrictive measures on public campuses.

At Iowa State University, Paul Gerlich and Erin Furleigh contend their club T-shirts supporting legalizing marijuana were censored through overly broad and vague rules banning use of the school's name or trademarks to promote "dangerous, illegal or unhealthy products, actions or behaviors."

At Chicago State University, professors Phillip Beverly and Robert Bionaz allege administrators repeatedly tried to silence CSU Faculty Voice, a blog they and other faculty authored. The lawsuit claims the school improperly used a cyberbullying policy to investigate a blogger for harassment.

At Ohio University, student Isaac Smith's lawsuit says the school's free-speech code bans any act that "degrades, demeans or disgraces" another. He is a member of Students Defending Students, which aids those charged with campus disciplinary offenses. The university prevented group members from wearing T-shirts reading "We get you off for free" on grounds that they objectified women and promoted prostitution, Smith said.

(Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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