Seemed innocent enough. The conservatives weren't harassing anyone, nor were they blocking any sidewalks.
But, administrators at this Christian-based college didn't like it. A dean told the students to either remove the McCain literature or to agree to what he said was university policy to present both sides. The dean correctly noted that the First Amendment applies only to government intrusion. A private university, unlike a public university, may curtail any free speech it wants.
The students still argued "free speech rights." Enter the provost, head of all academic affairs at the university. She reaffirmed the dean's demands. One of the members shouted: "free speech" at her. They challenged her, arguing that for a political organization to present both views would defy common sense. The provost's response, according to the conservative Leadership Institute, was "Shut up! I'm the provost. That is disrespectful."
The students were warned if they didn't comply with the administrators' demands, they would be restricted in future activities on campus.
The Founding Fathers wanted all views to be heard. Channeling the revolutionary political philosophy of poet John Milton and judge Lord Blackstone, they believed that mankind is rational, and if all the facts were available, mankind would find the truth. That became the basis of the First Amendment.
Now, the twist is that the Fresno Pacific administrators were wrong. Their own university actually believes that all views should be allowed, as long as there is the opportunity for opposing views. It does not require one organization to put out all views.
But, the Fresno Pacific administrators are also right. A private university can do what it wants to do. It can encourage or restrict free speech. Except in California.
California is the only state that extends the First Amendment to private colleges, which as a matter of educational philosophy should encourage, not restrict, freedom of expression.
This means that the wishes of the Founding Fathers have been extended into California, which many believe is a hellhole of liberalism. Disregard the fact that some rabid conservatives actively try to restrict free speech rights of others. Disregard the reality that conservatives who want to keep government out of our lives used both the constitution and state law to underscore their right to distribute political literature.
It's time for all states, especially Pennsylvania where the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution were written, to enact legislation to assure that the principles of the nation, and especially the rights of free expression, are extended to all sectors, both public and private.
Walter Brasch's latest book is the second edition of Sinking the Ship of State: The Presidency of George W. Bush (November 2007), also available through http://bn.com, and other bookstores. You may contact Brasch, a journalism professor, at email@example.com or through his website at: www.walterbrasch.com.
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This story was published on October 13, 2008.