Free speech demonstration on the concourse halted because students didn't have a permit

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Young Americans for Liberty members protested the University's free speech policy on the Haley Center concourse Thursday, Feb. 23 by inviting students to write thoughts on their shirts.

The event was cut short when a campus administrator, accompanied by a police officer, asked them to leave and come back with a permit. 

"According to the Constitution, we have a First Amendment right to free speech," said Gordon Miller, a Troy University student. "This being a public university, you should be able to say whatever you want, whenever you want, wherever you want. We feel like that's being repressed here."

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Wesley Stone, YAL president and sophomore in pre-med, said the Mell Street construction has exacerbated the problem.

The University requires speakers to use the Open Air Forum, located on the steps of the Ralph Brown Draughon Library, or other approved campus locations that have been deemed appropriate by the Division of Student Affairs, according to the University's speech and demonstration policy.

"The rest have very limited student traffic so your voice isn't actually being heard," Stone said. "You're not expressing what you need to express. We don't believe that limiting people's constitutional rights to specific areas is justifiable. We want people to have their rights guaranteed to them."

Students were invited to write things they don't like about the University, or anything else on their minds, on the members' shirts.

A few people didn't agree with their position and one person even ripped a flier. But Brett Hanson, freshman in mechanical engineering, said he didn't mind.

"It's free speech," Hanson said. "They can say it if they want."

The students were asked to leave the concourse, and return on Monday with a permit, three minutes into The Auburn Plainsman's conversation with the YAL members.

"Do you have your permit that you filled out through AU Involve?" Debbie Hood, who oversees Student Center reservations, concourse and banner permits and outdoor space for Student Affairs, asked. "You're supposed to have a permit anytime you're out on the concourse. It takes 48 business hours, and you can be out here on Monday. We will have to ask you to leave today. Like, all these other people went through AU Involve, and we can't really let y'all be out here and not go through the same process."

"We're out here talking about free speech," Stone replied. "Are you telling me I have to have a permit to exercise my right to free speech?"

"Right now, that is the policy of Auburn University," Hood said. "Everyone has to have a permit."

"At what point does talking on campus turn into something you need a permit for?" Hanson asked.

"It's not really talking; it's just being out on the concourse itself," Hood said. "It has to pass through the student organization office. Any student organization that wants to be out on the concourse has to have a permit to do so."

The students said they didn't want any trouble and agreed to leave.

They don't know when, but they plan to return.

"We would love to come back and do more activism," Stone said. "We may not be able to come back this Monday, but it's very clear that there is still a lot of work to be done on campus."

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