YAL at UIUC’s Constitution Week: Free Speech Wins the Day

We told the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana student services that we were going to bring out a free speech wall on Constitution Day. Their response was to ask as many questions as possible about the content that might end up on the wall. They never said we could not do it, but they wanted to know what people were going to be allowed to write and if we would be monitoring the free speech.

While the school’s bureaucracy was oblivious to the irony of their questions, we constructed the wall anyway. A small group of the YAL at UIUC chapter got together on the Sunday before September 17th and created the frame for the wall. The most difficult part of the process was figuring out how to get the wall to the quad which was about a mile away from where we were building it. In a stroke of genius, we decided to put wheels on the base of the structure and push it all the way there.

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After a week of following up on the student services’ questions, Constitution Day had arrived and the school still had not approved nor denied our presence on the quad. We went anyway and the day went without a hitch. We even had one of our members, Dan Humbrecht, dress up as a government agent and monitor the wall with a notepad to jokingly insure that people were not writing anything too offensive.

Many intrigued passers-by asked what they should write and would often ask for permission to write something controversial. Those questions alone are one of the biggest examples of why we need the wall out there in the first place. The Constitution affirms our right to speak out against our leaders or oppression freely and without fear of the fear governmental retribution. That is the heart of Constitution Day. In order to supplement our wall, we gave out free candy to everyone who signed up for our mailing list and also distributed over 200 pocket Constitutions. 

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Two days later, we had more than fifteen members at our weekly meeting where we discussed current free speech laws within and outside of the United States. In order to make sure that everyone knew what to do if they believed that their free speech was being hindered by the school we discussed the importance of organizations such as The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) and recent cases of student groups being forced to stop handing out the Constitution.

The most notable circumstance of this event on September 17th, 2013 was the Student’s For Liberty’s Campus Coordinator, Rob Van Tuinen, who recorded the whole ordeal on his phone. Situations like these are exactly why pro-liberty groups need to celebrate Constitution Day every year and build free speech walls that make the bureaucracies at the schools nervous. We need to vigorously defend our right to free speech because freedom is never free and once it is lost it might never come back.

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