On Nov. 13, Turning Point USA (TPUSA) in collaboration with the Young Americans for Liberty (YAL) and the College Republicans at UCR gathered by the Bell Tower in protest of free speech zones, which are allocated locations where free speech activities are allowed. According to UCR Policy 700-70, people who wish to exercise their rights of free speech and assemble for a pre-advertised activity must schedule it in advance with the Scheduling Office.
Such assemblies are also only limited to the Tower Mall (the area surrounding the Bell Tower) or the Speaker’s Mound area. Both the YAL and Turning Point USA (TPUSA), two organisations that focus on free speech advocacy, put out petitions for students to sign at their booths, with the intention of challenging UCR’s policy.
According to Navneel Sekhon, a second-year biology major and the president of UCR’s TPUSA chapter, they are a “non-profit, non-partisan organization with the intent to protect free speech.” Sekhon said that TPUSA’s “goal with the petition is to revoke the authority of UCR Policy 700-70 because it infringes on our right to collect and protest when we choose. It’s not up to UCR to determine when and where we can protest, and they do not have the authority to create free speech zones.” The concept of free speech zones on university campuses and their legality has been a contentious issue in American history.
A recent 2016 lawsuit challenged free speech zones at Pierce College in Los Angeles, and district courts upheld the right to express opinions on college campuses, regardless of location. The suit was supported by the U.S. Department of Justice, and drew a large amount of attention to the issue. However, no U.S. Supreme Court case has upheld specific rules on free speech in relation to college campuses. The legality of such “free speech zones” and college campuses restricting speech continues to be an unclear issue with no specific ruling.
TPUSA’s table had numerous buttons on offer, adorned with slogans such as “taxation is theft” and “I love capitalism.” The organization gathered almost 25 signatures from students not affiliated with the organization. The UCR chapter of TPUSA, according to Sekhon, has not been established yet. “We haven’t gotten approval for the actual club yet, but we’re still tabling here today because we have the right to do so,” she said. The petitions set out by both YAL and TPUSA collectively received around 36 signatures.
All three student organizations set up booths, propping up signs alongside the American flag and a United States silhouette with the words “free speech zone” covering the image. “It doesn’t make sense for there to be specific zones for free speech. Free speech shouldn’t be subjected to specific rules and boundaries, and it should not be constricted,” stated Amber Shope, a third-year psychology major and member of the College Republicans at UCR club. “We support the diversity of thought, which is why we wish to bring this issue to attention. No matter what views you hold, you should be allowed a platform to express yourself without restraint.”
After a few hours, a small group of students from the organizations walked past the Tower Mall with posters and returned back to their booths. One of the protesters, Chase Bowman, a third-year engineering student affiliated with YAL, stated, “the original intent of the free speech zone is to restrict it to a place where it doesn’t inconvenience people. However, we’re here on this lawn and we’re not inconveniencing anybody because we’re just holding up signs; we’re just trying to make a point.” When questioned about what changes the organizations want implemented, Bowman stated that “(we) want bigger free speech zones and to have an open dialogue with administration regarding free speech zones.”
Ben Roden, a fourth-year environmental engineering major and the vice president of YAL said that “it’s reassuring to see how open minded UCR students are when talking about such concerns, and it’s good to see everyone finding a common ground, regardless of political affiliation.”
According to YAL’s website, the group is a “pro-liberty” organization formed in 2008 at the end of Congressman Ron Paul’s presidential campaign. “YAL is a non-profit and non-partisan organization and we intend to preserve our Constitutional rights. Preserving free speech is not a partisan issue, it’s an issue that affects everyone,” Roden said.