Kevin Shaw was handing out copies of the U.S. Constitution to students at Pierce College in Los Angeles when he was stopped by a school official and told that he was only allowed to do so in the “free-speech zone” on campus and would need a permit, the philosophy and political science student says.

“These are our rights,” Shaw said this week, after filing a lawsuit in federal court against the college and the Los Angeles Community College District, which requires all campuses to have such zones. “Why should the school be able to set which groups are allowed to speak, and who is allowed their First Amendment rights?”

Supporters say designating spaces for protest helps keep campuses safer and prevents demonstrations from excessively disrupting students’ educations.

Shaw’s case launches a national effort by the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education to combat “free-speech zones” on campuses, which the group has long criticized as unconstitutional.

“At the very moment when colleges and universities should be encouraging open debate and the active exchange of ideas, Pierce College instead sends the message to its students that free speech is suspect and should be ever more tightly controlled,” Arthur Willner, an attorney working with FIRE on the case, said in a statement.

Marieke Beck–Coon, director of litigation at FIRE, said that “a student on a public campus engaging in core protected public speech, peacefully speaking with fellow students . . . should not have to ask for, essentially, government permission” to do so.