Vegan Activist Sues for Free Speech

Fighting for peace and equality for all living beings has never been more difficult simply because complacently supporting cruelty, destruction, and disease has never been so easy.

Photo courtesy FIRE/Dawn Bowery
Photo courtesy FIRE/Dawn Bowery

As college student Nicolas Tomas began handing out vegan leaflets on his Cal Poly Pomona campus, university officials apprehended him, telling him that until he obtained a permit, donned a special “free speech” badge, and confined his activities to the “free speech zone” on campus, he would not be allowed to continue his activism.

Tomas—vegan, animal rights activist and nutrition student at California State Polytechnic University, Pomona—attempted to come to amicable agreements with his university, which restricts students’ “free speech” activities to a disturbing degree.

Tomas has since filed a first amendment lawsuit against his university through the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE). FIRE explained that, “At Cal Poly students have to wear a free speech badge in the free speech zone and can only get authorization on weekdays. This is a cartoonish violation of the First Amendment, almost beyond parody.”

According to the court documents, “Cal Poly Pomona has prevented Plaintiff Nicolas Tomas from distributing literature on campus protesting the large-scale mistreatment of farm animals. Campus police have been called to the scene on more than one occasion when Tomas was doing nothing more than expressing his views peacefully in public areas of campus, and Tomas has been threatened with sanctions if he did not cease handing literature to passers-by.”

FIRE CEO and President Greg Lukianoff describes Cal Poly’s regulations against student’s “expressive activities” as “not just unconstitutional—it discourages students from engaging with the campus community on the issues they are most passionate about.”

Photo courtest FIRE/Dawn Bowery
Photo courtest FIRE/Dawn Bowery

A passionate animal rights activist, Tomas explains, “I came to college not only to further my education but to also participate in more activism. But I soon learned that it was going to be very difficult to share my beliefs with other students at Cal Poly and that was very disappointing to me. This lawsuit is going to ensure that all students at Cal Poly are able to exercise their free speech rights without having to ask the school for permission.”

In a Letter to the Editor at, Tomas further notes that he met repeatedly with administrators to remedy the situation, but that his concerns were consistently ignored, at which point he knew that only a lawsuit “could permanently change these unconstitutional policies.”

Tomas says, “I was told that I could only express my views in the ‘free speech zone.’ However, that phrase is ironic: the ‘free speech zone’ should, in reality, be called a ‘restricted speech zone’ because of its limitation to free speech to such a tiny, confined area.” FIRE reports that Cal Poly’s infamous free speech zone occupies less than 0.01% of campus and is about 154 square feet in total.

Of his veganism and animal advocacy work Tomas states, “One of the best ways to improve the lives of animals is by living a vegan lifestyle. Veganism also interests me at an academic level—the facts that we do not have to eat meat, dairy and eggs, and can thrive on an entirely plant-based diet has deeply caught my interest and motivated me to major in nutrition.”

Photo courtesy FIRE/Dawn Bowery
Photo courtesy FIRE/Dawn Bowery

While Tomas is not alone in his experience as a student at Cal Poly being targeted for free speech acts, he also joins a select group of animal rights activists being targeted by even larger authorities than the local university.

Independent journalist Will Potter dedicated an entire book, Green is the New Red, to exposing the alarming attention placed on environmental and animal rights activists. In an interview with, Potter shares his own experience after he passed out leaflets about animal testing:  “I was visited by two FBI agents at my home, who told me that unless I helped them by becoming an informant and investigating protest groups, they would put me on a domestic terrorist list. […] it scared the daylights out of me. […] That fear eventually turned into an obsession with finding out how this happened, how nonviolent protestors are being labeled as terrorists.”

Tomas may not yet be in for a visit from the FBI, but his experiences with the administrators and officials at Cal Poly Pomona certainly foreshadow the hard road ahead should he continue to fight for animal rights and promote veganism.

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