Auburn University’s chapter of Young Americans for Liberty protested Auburn University’s unconstitutional free speech policies, including — but not limited to — the “Free Speech Zone” and the overwhelming bureaucracy that makes it difficult for student groups to exercise their freedom of expression afforded to them by the Constitution.
Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) is a national organization dedicated to protecting “freedom of speech, legal equality, due process, religious liberty, and sanctity of conscience” on college and university campuses. It has deemed Auburn University a “red light” school in its tri-level ranking system: the worst score a University can get. According to their website, “a red light university has at least one policy that both clearly and substantially restricts freedom of speech.”
One of the areas of concern for FIRE and Auburn University’s chapter of YAL is the campus’ “Free Speech Zone” policy that limits student’s speech to less than a tenth of one percent of campus land area in one of the least trafficked areas of campus. These “free speech zones” have been ruled unconstitutional at universities all across the country. In a 2012 case, a federal judge ruled that the University of Cincinnati’s free speech zone “violates the First Amendment and cannot stand.”
In a 2004 case of Roberts v. Haragan, a judge said that “to the extent [that a] campus has park areas, sidewalks, streets, or other similar common areas, these areas are public forums, at least for the University’s students, irrespective of whether the University has so designated them or not.”
To protest these unconstitutional policies, our group asked other students on the main concourse (an area outside the designated “free speech zone”) if they would like to exercise their right to free speech by writing on the sandwich boards that the members of YAL were wearing. We also handed out hundreds of Constitutions to students.
The most striking moment was when some international students from Iran, who after reading and writing on all the boards, asked “Anything? Religious or political?” and thanked the organization as if this concept was altogether new and wonderful. It certainly reminded us that the freedom of speech afforded to Americans by the constitution is not a universal right in every part of the world, and how that makes protecting it is so crucial.
A volunteer with a sandwich board named Luke said “You got to use it or lose it.” Some of the people participating had concerns about allowing free speech “all over campus,” which was argued best by an English professor who said, “I was trying to teach a class outside, but was interrupted by a preacher’s offensive statements.” A member then explained how a free university would create that possibility; however, explaining to the preacher that he was teaching a class would legally require the man to leave; since a campus is “limited public” property, and the entitlement of students to an uninterrupted education would still be upheld. He signed the board “Expand Free Speech.”
The president of Auburn University’s chapter of Young Americans for Liberty Holden Kincey, said “the overall response we got from all the students who both volunteered and supported our goal of expanding student’s right to free speech was 10 times greater than I had expected.” He went on to say that “[they] filled up 5 sandwich boards front and back of students using their constitutional rights to express themselves in the 3 hours. The students ate it up.”