We seem to have forgotten what the First Amendment tells us on campus. For those who didn’t bother to stop by the Young American’s for Freedom “The Fall of the Berlin Wall – The 26th Anniversary” event to pick up a free copy of the Constitution and Bill of Rights, the actual language reads:
“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.”
On Monday, when the Young Americans for Freedom Chapter of the University of Michigan stood on the Diag next to a mock-up of the Berlin Wall inscribed with ideas of censorship, they were championing the right of all citizens to express their ideas free from censorship.
Censorship was the policy of East Berlin. Even 26 years later, that freedom from censorship is still worth fighting for should be obvious.
Unfortunately, the battle against censorship still needs to be fought. As Grant Strobl, the Chairman of the Michigan Chapter of Young Americans for Freedom, put it, “The university’s practices lately, and most importantly the university’s use of the bias crime hotline, are coercing and intimidating students into silence and are a barrier to intellectual discourse and the free discussion of ideas.”
The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), a nonprofit dedicated to defending the fundamental rights of students and faculty corroborates Strobl’s concern, rating the University of Michigan a Speech Code Rating Red. According to the FIRE website, “A red light university has at least one policy that both clearly and substantially restricts freedom of speech.”
The notion that a student at a public university could be reprimanded and reported for the free expression of ideas should be of the utmost concern of the entire student body. For campus activists of all political stripes it is that very right to freedom of speech that makes struggles for justice possible.
Somehow, this understanding was lost on many students who saw the event in progress on the Diag. Some told the Michigan Daily that the event itself constituted a bias incident and should be stopped. Others commented on the event page that such an action was “an embarrassment to the University of Michigan and to our student body.”
What seem to be more troubling, however, are the comments members of Young Americans for Freedom received while working at the event. Tyler Searls told the Michigan Review that a student told him “you are the type of guy who will rape your wife” before flicking them off as she huffed away.
Erin Dunne may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.