‘I Am The Free Speech Zone’ nationwide event hopes to bring awareness to campus free speech issues

A nationwide protest of censorship of speech on college campuses has been set for April 21, with a day of free speech debates, First Amendment education and featured speakers to bring awareness to students’ free speech rights.

Chris Sargent, who organized the event, “I Am The Free Speech Zone,” with his brother Robert, said in an interview with Campus Reform that the inspiration came from their growing frustration with political correctness and free speech zones, which restrict student protests or demonstrations to specific areas on campus.

The event, which will be organized by interested college students on campuses across the country, is an effort to educate young adults on their First Amendment rights and empower them to oppose free speech limitations, according to a press release.

By restricting students to free speech zones, schools are violating students’ First Amendment rights and limiting their free expression, Chris Sargent said in a statement.

“Free speech isn’t constrained to arbitrarily defined boundaries, it’s guaranteed by citizenship, and it travels with you, wherever you are on campus,” he said. “‘Free speech zones’ are an oxymoron and anything but free.”

Sargent told Campus Reform that the event is meant to push back against what he thinks is stifling independent thought on college campuses today, including political correctness. He said he wants to overcome what he says is a misperception that free speech zones are positive for free speech. 

An article in the fall 2015 edition of the Student Press Law Center’s Report magazine explored the legality of free speech zones. Besides being controversial, free speech zones have sparked a number of lawsuits, often filed by the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, from students who say their First Amendment rights have been violated. At least five universities have settled for tens of thousands of dollars in the past two years.

For example, Dixie State University in Utah settled for $50,000 after three students filed a lawsuit against the university after administrators prevented them from distributing fliers. Administrators told the students that their planned protest would have to take place in a free speech zone, which constituted about 0.1 percent of campus.

In another case, California Polytechnic State University settled a lawsuit for $35,000 after university police told a student he would have to wear a badge signed by an administrator and stay in the campus’ free speech zone — which constituted less than 0.01 percent of campus — when handing out fliers against animal abuse.

State legislatures have also taken action against free speech zones. So far, Virginia and Missouri have both banned free speech zones from college campuses.