Clemson students rally against ‘free speech zones’
- Several dozen students and local community members gathered at Clemson University Friday afternoon to protest against the administration for not allowing a man to pray with students.
- Most student who spoke with Campus Reform expressed disgust at the idea of confining free speech to pre-designated areas, though a few thought the idea was "cool."
- A Clemson administrator defended the school's free speech zones as a way to "manage" public expression on campus, lest it get "out of control."
Several dozen students and local community members gathered at Clemson University Friday afternoon to protest against the administration for not allowing a man to pray with students.
The protesters gathered in the exact spot that Robby Roberts, the man praying with students, was told he could not hold a sign saying “Prayer.” Roberts joined the group on Friday, still defiantly holding up his sign.
Roberts expressed gratitude for all the support, noting that he has spent the last couple years at Clemson ministering to students by spending nights downtown outside the bars and offering prayer to anyone who wanted it.
“The fact that fellow Christians can gather here today and pray with me, and not be afraid or hide...I think that is how it should be,” Roberts observed, though he continues to question Clemson’s policy, which he feels does not allow sufficient liberties for outside organizations looking to minister to students.
“The policy concerns me because 99.99 percent of Christians are not affiliated with Clemson University, so if they were called to minister here, they'd have to first jump through the arbitrary and bureaucratic hoops that the university has put in place,” he pointed out. “They call it free speech, but once they finish dumbing it down, it turns into quite downgraded speech.”
Roberts said his ultimate goal is for “the church to be available to Clemson students 24 hours a day, and 365 days a year,” but acknowledged that this would require a change in policy, “because currently, outside ministries do not have that access to Clemson students.”
Clemson administrators and media relations staff oversaw the protest to answer questions and address concerns.
The administrators asserted that the university's rules regarding outside groups coming to campus fall in line with other federal cases on the subject, adding that Roberts and others may enjoy the same free speech rights on campus as do students, faculty, and staff, provided they pre-register their activities.
WeRoar, the organization that planned the demonstration, is a coalition of the Clemson chapters of Young Americans for Liberty, Turning Point USA, and the Tiger Town Observer.
“Our organizations joined together to advocate for free speech and allow for all ideas to be heard,” said Mitchell Gunter, a WeRoar member.
“I think if it’s a public university receiving taxpayer funds, it should be a free speech zone across the entire campus,” he added, opining that “too many college students are coddled by the culture of censorship at Clemson, as well as other colleges and universities, [and] I just think college students need to learn to be challenged and need to learn how to be offended.”
Clayton Warnke, the co-founder of WeRoar, stated that this protest was about raising awareness and starting a dialogue.
“We decided to organize the demonstration as an effort to bring attention to policies that restrict the First Amendment at Clemson University, and as an attempt to work with the administration to reform those restrictive policies,” Warnke explained. “We realize the individual in question is a non-student, but we also realize the value of preserving individual liberties at Clemson, especially in a public space, for all Americans.”
Many of the students who spoke with Campus Reform expressed similar sentiments, though a few appeared to have been thrown off by the innocent-sounding term “free speech zone.”
“America’s the real free speech zone; public universities don’t get to tell us where we can talk, especially students on our campuses,” one female student declared emphatically. “We all pay to go to school here...so Clemson University doesn’t get to tell me where I can speak, when I can speak, or what I can say.”
“The Constitution gives us the right to free speech and freedom of expression, and I think that having designated free speech zones on campus is against the Constitution,” another student concurred.
“It’s more about being able to manage something that could quickly and easily get out of control,” maintained Dr. Christopher Miller, Clemson’s Dean of Students.
A few students even hesitantly expressed support for the idea of free speech zones, with one actually calling them “cool.”
“Umm, I think they’re a great thing,” one male student told Campus Reform, while another elaborated further, saying, “I think they’re a good idea; it’s a good idea to have those.”
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