The Palin Protester

Elon hosted Vice Presidential candidate Sarah Palin this week, six months after hosting former President Bill Clinton speaking on Hillary’s behalf during the primary season.

These days, protests accompany campaigns just as the moon follows the sun. During the Palin campaign rally, an Elon sophomore who held an Obama sign and began shouting was arrested for disturbing the peace.

Elon’s student newspaper, The Pendulum, did an excellent job in covering Governor Palin’s speech and related stories (see the video of the student’s protest and subsequent arrest at the bottom of this entry). In the Pendulum story, the student is quoted as saying in his defense: “I think that we have a freedom of speech.”

In that particular context, did he?

Legally, the answer is no.

Elon was a neutral host, permitting the Republican Party to use the baseball field for a ticketed event. Those who secured free tickets were told in advance they could not bring posters into the ballpark.

The First Amendment generally protects free speech in a public setting (limited by time, place and manner restrictions). Free speech rights are stronger on the Mall in Washington than on the baseball field at Elon. Free speech is not a “right” in someone’s private setting, unless expressly granted. In this case, Elon designated a “free speech zone” for those in opposition, and protesters there received substantial news coverage as well.

The student protester, then, had a choice. He could come to the Palin rally without his sign or go to the free speech zone with his sign.

The campus appearance by former President Clinton last spring was not a ticketed event, and no prohibition on signage was announced. I remember seeing opposition signs in the crowd. Even so, if someone had started shouting during Clinton’s speech and did not stop, that person would have been hauled away, too.

We need to think deeply on matters of free speech. A court would ask if a person has ample opportunity for political expression, short of disrupting someone else’s free speech.

Precipitating the scene shown in the video above was an effort to halt the student from holding up an opposition poster at the ticketed event, which can be seen here.

Explore posts in the same categories: Freedom of Expression, Media and Politics, Student Media, Students

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