State lawmaker: University stadiums are no place for free speech demonstrations

A metro Atlanta university is responding after a nationwide protest spread to their home field during a recent football game - and explaining the absence of the same students at the following game.

A Georgia state representative is voicing his opinion on free speech at universities. 

His statement comes after five Kennesaw State University student took a knee during the national anthem at a football game in September. More on that story, here.

Rep. Earl Ehrhart, (R) Cobb County chairs the state House committee that decides funding every year for KSU and the rest of the University System of Georgia.  

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Read the full statement below

Ehrhart says state university stadium events where people pay for admittance is not a place for free speech demonstrations--by students or anyone else. He says public areas--at the universities and elsewhere--are where people should demonstrate.

"Absolutism in defense of free speech is an interesting discussion. The Supreme Court has taken what I think is the only reasonable course with respect to their long standing "time, place and manner' test for any restriction. With respect to the public square I think it should be an absolute freedom. However like most things when one right infringes on another's rights, then a balance is required.

Here, and across the country we are seeing this play out in venues not completely public; i.e. workplace or campus. Speech and political statements have a tendency to make others upset or uncomfortable. Good!! However, one individual does not have the right to have their neighbor pay for their repugnant speech. Say what you will, but you cannot make others pay for the venue to express your views.

Any employee in Kaepernick's [sic] case cannot be given the absolute right to participate in speech which harms the employer paying him.

MORE | Students kneeling for the national anthem nationwide

A University student cannot demand a taxpayer supported platform like a football field for their political speech. An individual in a University classroom cannot have unrestrained license to disrupt through speech while a professor is trying to teach others. Again, back to the time place and manner test.

If we allow KSU Cheerleaders a venue without restriction, can we restrict a player with a confederate flag on his helmet? Can we restrict a Klan scum with a hood?

Viewpoint discrimination is a slippery slope and you end up with the thought and speech police with the biggest gun defining who can speak. One person’s repugnant speech is another’s history or heritage, and we create a circus at a Universities restricted venue which deprives others of rights if we do not have the time place and manner test. I love the circus in the public square for everyone, however when others are paying you do not get free pass at their expense.

How about we let football fields be about football, which is their business, and leave the politics to the public square paid for and shared by all?

This is not a campus Free Speech issue at all.  It is an issue of allowing certain individuals access to advocate their particular political opinions in a restricted venue like the football stadium.  If those who prefer to stand on this as a free speech issue want to completely allow all statements from all students, even those which offend them, onto the field, the stadium will cease having the capacity for games and become a Free Speech zone for all. 

You cannot just restrict the stadium to left wing hate speech and gestures only.  I have to wonder if these same individuals would advocate for the free speech rights of a southern heritage supporter and the St. Andrews flag.  Would they want to restrict the repugnant speech of a Klansman?  Would they fall apart at “Make America Great Again” Hats and stickers on a band member’s tuba?  I think they would be the first calling for restrictions.  They would be right for the stadium, however all these and thousands more are protected under the first amendment in the public square open to all, no matter the content.   Anything else is viewpoint discrimination, and not allowed under the Constitution.  Most reasonable people understand the basis of time, place and manner as outlined by the Supreme Court. 

Again, let’s leave the political statements for the proper free venue and enjoy the spectacle of sport which brings us together, not make statements that divide us."
 

© 2017 WXIA-TV


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