By Mamady Marenah
The First Amendment was the opening statement of a panel that brought awareness to students of our constitutional right to read whatever we want to. The panelists shared expertise on aspects of our rights, and shed light on the restrictions that are specific to GGC. “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances,” the First Amendment states.
The panel included Dr. Scott Boykin, Assistant Professor of Political Science; Mark Kannaley, Director of legal affairs; and Frank Peters, the Assistant Dean of the Library. Dr. Boykin set the stage with a summary of a book chapter he wrote which talks about the promotion of the First Amendment on college campuses and statutory requirements that protect students from discrimination and harassment. This promotes a conducive learning environment that will let students participate fully towards their education, thus being able to express themselves to the greatest extend. When students graduate, they must be able to face different people with different opinions than theirs.
Dr. Boykin explained one way that colleges have been trying make this possible by providing “free speech zones” around campus. They can then regulate speeches by providing “speech codes” which determine what students can say and what they are not allowed to say. He said that this is where schools get into trouble. “They get into trouble because they wind up prohibiting speeches that’s actually being protected,” said Boykin. He mentions that under constitutional limitations, the school has the right to ban people from saying certain things like criminal threats. They can also set places and times of speech in order to prevent interference with other programs.
Mr. Kannaley critiqued some of Dr. Boykin’s point in regards to free speech as he did not waste any time in pointing out that GGC has free speech zones and they are open to all students as long as they “do not call for the immediate burning down of the buildings around campus.” “I will point out that the law does not require nobody to listen to you,” added Kannaley. He then focused on the issue of banned books. Some of the top books listed by the number of attempts to ban in public schools include the Bible, the Color Purple, Diary of a Young Girl, and also Harry Potter, which has been at the top of the list for nine years. Mr. Kannaley clarified that this only applies to public schools but not to private schools.
People tend to want to ban books because of personal reason that may include religious and racial themes, but trying to ban books always makes people want to read them. “If you are a Republican and I am part of a school board that’s made up of all Democrats and say do not read this book because it was written by a Republican what would you do?” asked Kannaley, to which the audience answered “Read it”. He added that today, technology has made it easier to access books that people are attempting to ban, which makes it very difficult. He closed his speech with a very important note urging everyone in gathering to keep in mind by saying that “our constitution does not permit the official suppression of ideas.”
“I am not a fan of free speech zones, I believe that everywhere should be a free speech zone,” said Mr. Frank Peters as he began his portion of the discussion. Controlling where public speaking should happen does not make sense to him. Peters continued his speech by reading court cases about the battles to ban certain books. He also explained the advocates in favor of banning books. Parents immerged on top of the list since parents want to control what their children are reading. When they can’t control the books their child has access to, they take steps to remove the book from their child’s school. The last example was if a school newspaper or other publication includes an article that may be of detrimental effect to the school.
The administration may want to suppress that article from coming out. Peters also mentioned that many people like to think that this is a right wing issue, but the fact of the matter is that challenges come from both sides of the political spectrum. The event was wrapped up with the audience questions and sharing their stories about people trying to stop them from reading what they wanted. The majority of the attendees were staff members. This event would have been very informative to students as well if it had been efficiently communicated to them, but few were in attendance and others expressed interest if they had known.