About a week ago, my friend Todd Byars contacted me about promoting a civil protest action in response to an event scheduled at Florida State University. Evidently, the local GOP group had scheduled their annual Lincoln Day Dinner at the University Center Club, located on campus in the structure that surrounds Doak Campbell Stadium with Governor Rick Scott as the keynote speaker.
When Todd proposed this idea, I liked it but I immediately had doubts that the event would be able to happen as he envisioned it. FSU has “free speech zones” and as far as I knew, the area near the event venue wasn’t a designated free speech zone. I also had a feeling that FSU administrators would be uneasy with a political action on campus that wasn’t originating with a student group – and many of the student groups that would normally embrace an action of this type are on hiatus for the summer.
Here is a link from the Student Press Law Center that explains universities and “free speech zones”:
In 2007, FSU doctoral student Laurence B. Alexander addressed the issue of universities and free speech zones in his dissertation entitled: Public Forum Doctrine in Higher Education: Student Rights and Institutional Prerogatives. The dissertation is available online at http://etd.lib.fsu.edu/theses/available/etd-04092007-173608/.
This spring, FSView staff writer Chad Squitieri addressed the “free speech zone” issue in an article, “Isn’t the entire country a ‘free speech zone’?”
My initial notion that the stadium area had no designated “free speech zones” was actually incorrect. After reviewing university policy on free speech at FSU, I learned that there actually is a designated space outside Gate D of the stadium that is considered a “free speech zone”.
Free Speech Zones
Florida State University Open Platform and Amplified Sound Policies 09-10
The green area on the east side of Moore Auditorium, the central portion of Landis Green and the football stadium outside Gate D in the grassy area are designated “open platforms.” Any student or other individual who desires to be heard publicly on any issue of concern may use these areas subject to the provisions of this regulation at any time when previous scheduling does not preclude such use but only from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. local time.
In light of the ongoing legal issues and the overall murkiness of the “free speech at public universities” debate, I suggested Todd stage the rally at a park close to the stadium. Lake Elberta Park is located behind a row of live oaks at 1339 Lake Bradford Road, with a parking area opposite the intersection of Daniel Street and Lake Bradford Road. The park is located within sight distance of the stadium and the distance is less than a mile and could be walked comfortably in under 15 minutes. I recommended that he get a park permit, stage some speakers there, and then march to the stadium to engage in an off-campus sidewalk sign waving action while people parked to enter the event at the University Center Club.
Several logistical issues with my proposed plan were raised and Todd made the decision to scrap the planned rally entirely. He released the following press release on Thursday:
Lincoln Day 2011 Celebration/Protest against Rick Scott Documents – General Press Release
June 15, 2011 Dear Sir, I am a long time resident of Tallahassee, Florida and an alumni of Florida State University. Last week I was informed that Governor Rick Scott would be speaking at the ritzy University Center Club for the Local Republicans Celebration of Lincoln Day 2011. After contacting friends and the College Democrats we decided to plan a Rally against Rick Scott. After contacting FSU and being shuffled around for about a week we were referred to the FSU Police. They denied our right to this assembly, our freedom of speech and our rights as residents of the State of Florida. The FSU Police Chief took a couple of days to call back and when I did finally get him on the phone he was rude and said he did not care who I had talked to at the President of FSU’s office or about our rights or even if we talked to the press. He did however ask that I spell his name correctly to the press. This is the 2nd Time Rick Scott and the State of Florida have denied similar rights. A month ago at a protest over the budget the protesters were forced off the property by the local sheriffs in a county in central Florida. I am now fighting this as a violation of my and my groups Civil Rights. I have also requested a meeting with the President of FSU and the Chief of FSU’s Police to discuss this matter after the fact. If you would like more information please contact me at 850.509.9426 Sincerely, Todd W. Byars firstname.lastname@example.org
By: Todd W. Byars
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