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Ponnada: Protesting a branding

BY SRI PONNADA | JANUARY 25, 2013 5:00 AM

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We’ve heard of hunger strikes and flag burning. Peaceful protests are allowed under the U.S. Constitution. What we haven’t seen much of so far though is “flank branding.”

Emily Moran Barwick, a 28-year-old Iowa City resident, wants to carry out such a demonstration of her own. The event, or “performance piece,” as Barwick describes it, will involve her being chained down, having her head shaven, and then being publicly branded with a cattle iron heated to 500 degrees.

This fairly uncommon protest, however, is being protested by officials at the University of Iowa.

“I’d applied for a permit to do it on the Pentacrest,” Barwick said. “But when the Press Citizen called them and talked more overtly about the branding, the university revoked my permit.”

Barwick said an associate provost contacted her and told her that it violated university policy because it constituted bodily harm.

This may seem like a violation of Barwick’s First Amendment rights, but the university did have reason to prevent the performance.

According to general policy, the UI permits eligible groups to sponsor events on the Pentacrest as long as those events are conducted under reasonable time, place, and manner restrictions.

“Under the First Amendment, the University of Iowa is given the authority to regulate the time in which demonstrations take place, the place in which they take place, and the manner in which they take place,” said Lyombe Eko, a UI journalism associate professor who specializes in media law. “As a result, what the university did is very consistent with the First Amendment in the sense that the First Amendment is not absolute.”

Although Barwick said she respects the university’s decision, she said believes that her performance is not so extreme as others say it is and doesn’t agree with the university’s policies.

“I understand [UI officials’] discretion,” Barwick said. “I still, though, find it to be interesting that there’s this ban against bodily harm, but the university serves meat and dairy products in its cafeteria that are derived from bodily harm, whereas this is an art piece that I’m doing voluntarily.”
Eko noted that if Barwick wants to do her performance piece in private or a place that does not call attention to her, she has the right to do so.

“What people do with their bodies is up to them,” he said. “But if she [Barwick] does something that causes harm to herself or to others, the government has the right to intervene.”

Barwick said she plans to do her performance piece at an undisclosed location — not on university property, of course. Whoever happens to see it will have a chance to see it live. As for the rest of us who are interested, we’ll have to wait until Barwick streams the video of the performance on YouTube.

Everyone is entitled to her or his opinions in America — the land of the free. If Barwick is careful about where, when, and how she goes about it, she should be allowed to paint her masterpiece.


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