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University regulates free-speech zone



Free speech at the University: Is it really free?

In the wake of Wednesday’s anti-abortion rally in the EMU Amphitheater, students may be unclear about what actions are acceptable at the University’s free-speech zone.

Department of Public Safety Associate Director Tom Hicks said the intended use of the amphitheater is for free-speech actions, such as handing out brochures, talking to people about issues or holding banners.

“For somebody to use the free-speech amphitheater, it’s generally accepted without having any reservation or without scheduling ahead of time,” Hicks said.

But the anti-abortion protesters, who belonged to a group called Survivors, arrived at the amphitheater without scheduling their event — an action that Hicks said is consistent with University rules as long as the group didn’t set up a display without a permit. Instead, the protesters improvised, holding the signs in the air or setting them on their feet to avoid contact with the ground.

“The way we draw the line on that is to say you have to hold the signs — you can’t set up a display,” Hicks said. “For displays, you have to schedule ahead of time.”

Survivors was not the only group exercising free-speech rights in the amphitheater, however.

Students for Choice also made an appearance to counter-protest, setting up an amplifier and speaking about the pro-choice angle.

Hicks said their actions were also compliant with the rules because they weren’t interfering with the pro-life protest, and they confined their behavior to making statements.

“As far as we were concerned, it was authorized,” he said.

Although the EMU’s free-speech zone is open for anybody to exercise certain free speech rights, those rights can be limited by various regulations. Hicks said the amplified speeches, which were allowed at noon, wouldn’t necessarily be allowed at midnight without a permit.

“The University has the authority to regulate time, place and manner on things that occur on campus, including free speech,” Hicks said. “We can make limits on what things occur, what time the things occur and how things occur.”

— Jan Montry

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