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Free speech display on Pentacrest draws attention

BY BILL COONEY | FEBRUARY 27, 2015 5:00 AM

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Young Americans on the University of Iowa campus are hoping to get students fired up about Young Americans for Liberty.

Holding a demonstration on the Pentacrest Thursday was one way they hope to encourage participation in both the group and the organization’s state convention on March 7.

Part of Thursday’s demonstration included a free speech wall on which passerbys could write on boards as a demonstration of free speech.

“Students can come and write whatever they want on the wall, no matter what it is,” Young Americans for Liberty Iowa Chairman Matthew Evans said. “We’re not here to censor anyone; as long as what is written does not incite any kind of violence, you can write it down.”

Messages written on the wall ranged from anti-police slogans to commentary on the quality of professional football being played in Chicago.

Another part of the demonstration was to protest limited “free-speech zones” on college campuses, Ellen Reynolds said.

“It’s ridiculous; one in six colleges have these free-speech zones, and it’s ridiculous,” she said.

According to the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, one in six universities in the United States restrict free speech and expression to certain areas on campus.

University of Iowa police Lt. Joe Lang, who was on scene at the demonstration, said the police were called to the event because someone saw the demonstration and decided to report it.

“We’re out here to make sure they went through the proper channels to get permission for this demonstration,” he said “We’re protecting the vested interest of the university; we just want to avoid a situation similar to what happened a few months ago.”

Lang was referring to the placement of a statue on the Pentacrest by artist and Visiting Assistant Professor Serhat Tanyolacar that stirred controversy and caused some to question the UI’s response.

Thursday was a very different situation, said Jeneane Beck, the senior director for news and media relations at the University Communications & Marketing.

“Today’s display was organized by a registered student organization, and university personnel knew about it ahead of time,” Beck wrote in an email. “No other group had reserved the space, so once it was verified that the display was an activity of the registered student organization, and that they planned remove the display in a reasonable amount of time, the vice president decided to allow the display.”

The UI Code of Student Life states that protests at the university and on university property are subject to time, place, and manner regulations to protect the rights of others and to prevent damage to property.

“As far as I know, universities aren’t exempt from the First Amendment,” Evans said. “Even though something may be offensive, that’s no reason to hide it away and not talk about it. That’s why we’re out here, to promote this discussion about speech.”

The protest comes just before the Young Americans for Liberty’s state convention on March 7.

Ty Hicks, Midwest regional director for Young Americans for Liberty, said events such as this are important to raise awareness about the group and its upcoming convention.

“It’s going to be a real blast,” Hicks said.

FreedomWorks CEO Matt Kibbe and Rep. Rod Blum, R-Iowa, will speak at the event, which will also include workshops, networking events, and a social.

He said visibility leading up to the convention was important for attendance.

“In the weeks leading up to it, we really want to push people to register to attend the convention; it’s a great opportunity for us,” Hicks said.


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