Clemson Administration Adds Doublespeak to Censorship – Publius

A recent email from Clemson Administration had the subject line “Issue in the News.”  We at the Tiger Town Observer believe it is crucial for the student body to critically examine the content of this email message, its contradictions, and its claims.

The university claims to hold fast to Robby’s right to prayer, to constitutional free speech, and to the legal best interest of their students. Read the email; however, and a very different image emerges about the reality of free expression on campus.

“Last week, an individual not affiliated with Clemson was on campus inviting others to pray with him via a sign he posted on campus grounds. It has been inaccurately reported that Clemson prohibited this individual from praying on campus.”  Mark Land, Vice President — University Relations

Clemson didn’t tell Robby he had to leave because he was praying, they told him his offer to pray with students who approached him was solicitation. Even the word invitation is too strong for what Robby was doing, sitting silently with his sign, studying scripture. Never mind the fact that this doesn’t even meet the school’s definition of solicitation. The sign he “posted” was a sheet of paper labeled, “PRAYER” sitting in the chair beside him. In the eyes of Clemson, Robby’s prayer is solicitation.

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“He was also told that if he wanted to erect a sign and invite a gathering, he would need to reserve one of the areas of campus designated as available to the public for this type of activity or gathering.

Constitutional law does not make all areas of the Clemson campuses open to the public. Clemson has the right, and a legal obligation, to govern use of its facilities and space to ensure safety and to facilitate an effective learning environment. Groups and persons not affiliated with the university who desire to hold events, solicit or invite interaction with students or post signage are required to follow the law and university policies, and use our publicly available spaces.”  Mark Land, Vice President — University Relations

Let’s look at the guidelines the Constitution has about Clemson’s ability to regulate the “where, when and how’s” of free speech on campus. FIRE, The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, has written and made available a clear guide to the relationship between a University and the regulation of Free Speech. On one point, the administration is correct, Constitutional law does not make all areas of Clemson Campus open to the public. However, according to FIRE:

Since the Supreme Court’s decision in Hague v. Committee for Industrial Organization (1939), it has been settled in the law that public parks—since they are held in trust for the public and have traditionally been used for assembly, communication, and public discussion—are “traditional” public forums.

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It’s more than common knowledge that Trustee Park, being on a public campus, is a public park. By extension this classifies Trustee Park as a traditional public forum. And by the law, Clemson has an obligation to follow in regulating its facilities, the University is only entitled to very narrow regulations of speech. Nothing could be further from the case. Non-students can’t even speak at Trustee park because it isn’t a “free speech zone”, an illegal regulation for public parks. This after the additional burdens of a 72-hour prior notice, and registration and reservation form for public forums.

“While the gentleman in question was polite and accommodating, Clemson must apply the law and university policies regarding use of university space by non-affiliated individuals or groups in a uniform, consistent and content-neutral manner. In other words, while religious expression is welcome on our campuses, the university cannot selectively enforce its rules on facilities or space use based on the message or ideas being promoted…

Clemson welcomes a full range of expression on its campus and works diligently to protect the free speech rights of all individuals or groups on its campuses, while at the same time applying the law and university policies in a consistent manner that promotes a safe and effective learning environment.”  Mark Land, Vice President — University Relations

There is a good idea here: equal enforcement of the law regardless of content. However, this has been proven false repeatedly. Clemson Administration has decided to allow a variety of non-student, non-affiliated groups and individuals to solicit on campus in “non-free speech zones”. Instances that arise on a regular basis include: Jimmy Johns, representatives for student internships and jobs, individuals handing out books, individuals handing out flyers regarding abortion, animal rights and vegan activists, and church and religious groups. While the chief issue with these policies is their lack of grounding in moral or legal precedence it is important to note that the administration has such little regard for its own policies that it doesn’t bother pretending to equally enforce them until it becomes politically important.

This individual is welcome on our campus. He can pray at that location. But if he desires to erect a sign and invite a gathering, he will need to move to one of our designated spaces available for such activity, just as would be the case for any individual or group not affiliated with the university that wishes to engage the campus community in such a manner.  Mark Land, Vice President — University Relations

To read this statement with no prior knowledge one would assume Robby was standing in the middle of campus, surrounded by groupies all carrying picket signs and yelling “Prayer now! Prayer now!” However, the simple reality is that Robby was not “erecting” a sign, he had a sheet of paper in a chair next to him. He wasn’t inviting people to a “gathering”, he literally was sitting there as quiet as a church mouse waiting for any singular persons to come to him. If this is what the administration considers an engagement that violates free speech laws then practically no one is allowed on Clemson’s campus. But of course other people are allowed on campus that say and do these sorts of things (and worse) without ever experiencing the wrath of the bureaucracy. The policies that caused Robby’s reprimand are only enforceable when administrators want.

“In addition, individuals and groups from the external community are welcome to pray on our campuses, either individually or while interacting with our students.”  Mark Land, Vice President — University Relations

Roby believes that the sign he had beside him appeared to him in a vision he had while praying. Whether or not you believe this actually happened, it is a legitimate part of Robby’s religious experience and is an extension of his worship. When Robby was told he couldn’t continue prayer with that sign it was an assault on his ability to practice his faith. The greatest takeaway from this quote (and possibly this entire email) is that non-students are only allowed to pray up to a certain point according to administrators. This point is not determined by reason, it is not based in constitutional law, and it does not have any sort of consistency.

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Sadly, this is not an isolated incident. Clemson in the past has enforced these sorts of policies but we at TTO are disheartened to see that they would so openly affirm rules that are not rooted in our natural rights personified in the First Amendment. If these things concern you then we ask all students and community members from all faiths to join us this Friday in Trustee Park from 2-4pm. We will show our support for Robby through a rally for prayer.

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