A video that began trending on social media Monday appears to show a University of Nebraska-Lincoln employee threatening to call the police on students unless they stop speaking freely in public.
On Monday, Turning Points USA Director Charlie Kirk tweeted a video from Friday in which a university employee can be heard telling the head of the university’s TPUSA chapter, Katie Mullen, to move to a predesignated “free speech zone” — or else.
“I’m going to have to ask you guys to move this to the free speech zone, or we’ll have to have university police remove you. It’s completely up to you,” the man can be heard saying to the conservative demonstrators.
“Isn’t this a public university?” replies a female activist.
“Not with propaganda — you can free speech all you want, but you cannot hand out ‘propaganda,'” the university employee responds.
“But isn’t this a public university?” the same activist asks again.
“This is a reservable area that requires a reservation,” insists the employee. “I’ve asked you once. If I have to ask you again, I’m going to have to call [the police]. It’s up to you,” he says.
The exchange is a prime example of the ways in which the progressive Left seeks to stifle free speech, notes an expert who works to protect constitutional rights on college campuses.
“It’s very concerning on multiple levels,” said Ari Cohn, director of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education’s (FIRE) Individual Rights Defense Program. “One, being that the university has a free speech zone to begin with, and wants to corral freedom of expression to a tiny spot on campus and close off the rest of their campus to free speech.”
“The second, being this unidentified employee’s distinction, if you’d call it, between free speech and ‘handing out propaganda,’ which is a distinction not found anywhere in law,” he told LifeZette.”Propaganda, if it were propaganda, is protected just as much as any expression — and, frankly, the employee happens to be out of line.”
While Cohn admitted that “it’s difficult to say” what the employee’s motivations were, he noted that “schools sometimes feel like they have the right to inspect and approve or disapprove of anything that students hand out.” But “schools that think they have a right to do that are sorely mistaken,” he continued. “There is no part of the First Amendment that says it’s okay for schools to claim the authority to determine what printed materials can be distributed on campus any more than they can say what ideas are allowed on campus.”
Cohn also told LifeZette that the number of colleges and universities with such anti-free speech policies actually appears to be decreasing.
“FIRE has actually been very successful in fighting free speech zones over the years,” he said. “In 2013 according to FIRE’s data, nearly one in six of America’s top colleges and universities had free speech zones, and in our most recent survey of policies that number has dropped to one in ten.”
“It’s an improvement that’s in part thanks to legislation at the state level, in various states that have banned free speech zones, and in part due to growing awareness of the First Amendment issues … and the hard work of student activists and free speech advocates who have talked to administrators and fought these policies,” said Cohn. “And in no small part thanks to the various lawsuits that have seen free speech zones shut down.”
Nevertheless, the anti-free speech culture cultivated by such policies continues to drive leftist students to police their peers’ speech. The same day the conservative activists at the University of Nebraska were met by student protesters “chanting things such as ‘f*** Charlie Kirk’ and ‘TPUSA Nazis,'” according to Campus Reform.
“I think when colleges and universities have anti-free speech rules and policies in place, it certainly does embolden those who would use those policies to shut down the people they disagree with,” said Cohn. “The past six months or so have seen a dramatic increase in violence in response to free speech in campuses, starting of course with [University of California] Berkeley in February.”
“I think what encourages the violence is when students engage in violence to shut down speech they disagree with and there are no consequences,” he said. “When administrators throw their hands in the air and say, ‘Well what can we do?’ I think that sends the message to students that these tactics are working.”
(photo credit, homepage image: Beatmastermatt; photo credit, article image: ensign_beedrill, Flickr)