Letter from the editor: The first amendment matters

Shelby Tankersley, Editor-in-Chief

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Hey readers,

As an aspiring journalist, I am a big fan of the first amendment. Free speech, peaceful assembly, religious freedom, free press and the right to petition. I love it all. It is, in my opinion, the backbone of our constitution and one of the things that sets our system of government apart from other countries.

So, it disappointed me to learn that on Sept. 8, Ohio University set an interim ban, called the “Freedom of Expression policy,” in place that prohibits protests, rallies, speeches and things of that nature inside campus buildings.

Ohio University’s student newspaper (who, funnily enough, also calls themselves “The Post”) did a write-up on the ban the day it was announced and drew out some of the specifics.

“The new policy also clarifies the university’s definition of disruptive conduct,” the story by Bailey Gallion reads. “As defined by the university, disruptive conduct interferes with university employee’s abilities to do their jobs, interferes with an authorized event, impedes the flow of traffic or poses a threat to people or university property. The university also defines conduct as disruptive if it stops students from using facilities or participating in academic, research or extracurricular activities.”

My media law professor and practicing lawyer, Susan Evans, doesn’t think the policy will hold up as it appears to take away first amendment rights and raises several concerns with its timing and interim basis.

“Some public institutions have tried to limit student protests and demonstrations to certain select areas of campus known as free speech zones,” she said. “The policies challenged so far have not fared well — the universities involved in free speech zone cases in the early 2000’s have either settled out of court or have backed down prior to being hauled in to court.  Ohio University’s newly implemented policy, on first glance, looks quite narrow and begs the question of whether they are effectively zoning student speech off campus.”

On top of that, the state of Ohio is working on an act called The Free Speech Act that would ban any university from banning free speech. If it passes, Ohio University’s Freedom of Expression policy would be mute.

Okay, so this is going on in Ohio. Why on earth do you care?

We live in an age where people are welcome to call news that offends them “fake” and peaceful protests have gone to the wind (just look at the brave gal who was killed in Charlottesville last month or the 10 police officers who were assaulted in St. Louis over the weekend).

All I see here is the first amendment being spat on. If we would like the first amendment rights, we had better respect the right of those who don’t agree with us as well. I don’t know why Ohio University decided to enact its new policy, but I think it’s wrong. College is where we should be exposed to new ideas that strengthen our values and make us better critical thinkers, not somewhere that we’re spared from protesting because we (or the administrators) don’t want to hear what someone else has to say.

May we be so fortunate to never experience what our fellow students in Ohio are. The right to express and exercise your values is essential to the American way of life. Let’s not forget that.