Members of IU’s chapter of Young Americans for Liberty stood near Woodburn Hall with an oversized beach ball urging passing students to write what they wished.
Sophomore Tyler Combs and junior Nicholas Freyberger were raising awareness for the First Amendment Wednesday afternoon during Free Speech Week, which runs Oct. 16-22. Chapters of YAL across the country participate in the inflatable beach ball demonstration, which Combs said he helped run last semester.
Students scribbled phrases varying from “love each other” and “be yourself” to “Hilary (sic) is crooked” and “there is no ethical consumption under capitalism.”
He said the feedback they received Wednesday was overwhelmingly positive. The two students also asked passersby to sign a petition in support of the “Chicago Principles,” named after a set of campus free speech guidelines originally formulated by a committee at the University of Chicago about three years ago. The principles were adopted by Purdue University in 2015.
“Free speech is a contentious issue on college campuses right now, obviously, and a lot of times when you say, ‘Yeah, I believe in free speech,’ it’s often viewed as kind of like a dog whistle or code for, like, hate speech, neo-Nazis and that stuff,” Combs said.
He said some mistaken people, especially on the left, have denounced his organization because of this association. YAL is a libertarian group which formed after in 2008 out of the campaign of former presidential candidate Ron Paul.
Combs said while some colleges and universities across the country might mishandle First Amendment issues, the IU administration has done a good job promoting free speech.
He said universities, which are supposed to be defenders of free speech and discourse, often side with people who seek to restrict speech.
He said appearances by controversial speakers who don’t necessarily have distasteful views but toe the line have been shut down recently. However, he said he admired the way IU handled Charles Murray’s speech on campus in April.
“Provost Robel has come out in particular a lot in favor of free speech lately, so I’d definitely say that while we could be a little better, we are overwhelmingly doing a good job with free speech here,” Combs said.
Freyberger said he felt now more than ever, free speech was being threatened on college campuses across the country. He said while IU was not necessarily the best when it came to promoting free speech, the University was not as bad as other schools.
“I just think they need to back off because the First Amendment is something that needs to be enforced,” Freyberger said of universities that impose codes on speech. “It’s something that needs to be left alone. The more you enforce it, the less freedom there is.”
Combs said he wanted people to know that even though free speech can be utilized for malicious purposes, it was fundamentally a tool for good.
“It’s a fundamental right,” Combs said. “And if we try to restrict free speech, the very authorities that we put in place to restrict it are the authorities that are going to be promoting hate and oppression. So I think free speech is a tool for liberty for all people.”