Free speech at IVC: the case of the Christian provocateur

Photo by L Tonkovich
     At 2:02 this afternoon, IVC President Glenn Roquemore sent this remarkable email to the college community:
Colleagues,
This afternoon, in the free speech area in front of the Student Services Center, a man exercised his first amendment rights drawing an angry crowd that remained mostly peaceful. One student was arrested and released when he spit gum on the speaker. No further incidents were reported. Following the incident, the free exchange of ideas continued peacefully. A successful “teaching moment” was afforded to many IVC staff because most of the students in the crowd had little, if any, familiarity with the concept of free speech and several students rejected the idea outright. 
—Very Respectfully, Glenn R. Roquemore, Ph.D.

     At the end of my second class today, at about 1:50 p.m., a student motioned to the east window and directed my attention to some excitement in front of the Student Services Building. I saw the usual noisy Christian speaker or speakers, shouting "Jesus saves" and the like. The student called them "idiots." I said, "Maybe so, but they've got a right to think and say what they like." I went to my office.
     Just now, upon encountering Roquemore's remarkable email, I went outside to the aforementioned area and found two men with signs surrounded by maybe fifty or sixty people. As often happens midweek, one of them was shouting the standard "Christian" pleas: "repent," "Jesus saves," etc.
     One of the men held a sign with a predictable message about Jesus on one side. On the other side, however, the sign declared that Mohammed is/was a false prophet and that he was a "child molester." The latter notion seemed to be the most obnoxious of the messages displayed on the speakers' four or five signs. I later learned that, throughout the afternoon, the speaker had been shifting from target to target, sometimes attacking Muslims, sometimes attacking gays, sometimes attacking the "n-word President," and so on. 
     He was there, not to discuss or enlighten, but to provoke. He was successful.
     A student, evidently a veteran, stood about twenty feet from these "Christian" speakers, holding up a sign that said something like: "I'm a veteran. I didn't fight to protect 'bigoted' speech." There were two signs flat on the ground at the feet of the "Christian" speakers. Both condemned the speakers' message (the Islamophobia?), though they did not quite suggest that these speakers should be made to cease ranting. The crowd was somewhat rowdy, much amused, and a little hostile.
     I bumped into one of our police officers standing nearby. I asked if our students were behaving themselves. He stated that some of our students seem not to understand the First Amendment—the right to speak one's mind freely, to express even unpopular ideas—for there were some students, he said, who thought that the speakers' presentation should be stopped, that surely it was "illegal."
     The cop also noted that, in general, students had behaved very well and allowed the speakers to express themselves without hindrance.
     While I stood there, I saw that informal groupings of male students occasionally sought to shout down the Christian speaker. The idea, it seemed, was to prevent him from expressing his views.
* * *
Things were winding down by the time we took this pic. The chief
speaker was the man in black.
(Photo by L Tonkovich.)
     P.S.: 3:15 p.m. — The crowd has grown to about 100 and it has grown rowdier. The main "speaker," sporting a fedora and cheap suit, has offered attacks on gays, the field of psychology(?), the Obama administration, women (who, evidently, should not teach), and other predictable right-wing targets. He is clearly trying to provoke the students to anger, to action; unfortunately, students are taking the bait.
     There seem to  be at least three IVC policeman standing by, monitoring the situation. I spoke with them; they seem to be doing a good job keeping the crowd under control.
     I'm told that the crowd has swelled and shrunk and swelled again throughout the afternoon. Earlier in the afternoon, it was much larger, and that's when trouble occurred and Irvine PD were called in.



     P.P.S.: 3:45 — Just spoke with a colleague who noted that the college really ought to provide some kind of follow through to today's episode. It is clear that many students are in need of instruction concerning the notion of free speech—that, as Chomsky explains in the clip below, one does not believe in free speech unless one is willing to support speech that one does not like. (Even tyrants support "free" speech that they agree with.) She also said that this kind of episode reveals the desperate need on this campus for a student newspaper, where such issues can be addressed in a more satisfying manner that reaches students. (As you know, the reason that we do not have a student paper is the President's fear of criticism and other inconveniences that attend a genuine journalism program.) 
     As things are, there are now lots of angry and confused students at the little college in the orange grove and nothing will occur to address that situation, aside from various ad hoc efforts in classes here and there.
     I recommend viewing the clip from the documentary "Manufacturing Consent" below.


"If you believe in freedom of speech, you believe in freedom of speech that you don't like."

Comments

Anonymous said…
How can the admin instruct students about free speech when they themselves subvert it and discourage it on the campus? Glen's email was so strange. What is the meaning behind that strange final sentence? Why didn't he show up and talk to students himself?
Roy Bauer said…
I was told that Glenn did just that at one point.
Anonymous said…
Students easily misread what was going on with both campus administration and the police. Many international students do not have a context for free speech presentations and did not understand why the people were not removed. Additionally, students misunderstood why the police required a distance be kept (it looked like the police were offering protection to the hatemongerers when they were making sure students did not get themselves into trouble). Though Glen's email was not worded very well, and came off condescending and too critical of the students, he is right that there are teachable moments here. If nothing else, students did not feel apathetic but impassioned and that can be used for good.

I think that a message must be sent about the hateful nature of the speech. To continually call the demonstration "peaceful" is not really correct (as it was labelled in Glen's email). The protesters were not violent. But that is not the same as peaceful. The speech was evil and ugly and mean. And that must be acknowledged. Free speech and legally protected speech are not always peaceful. Discrimination, even if in language only, is not peace. But, it is protected in this context and there is a political and historical background that students should learn and discuss. I wish the administration would send an email out again to follow up and say these sorts of things.

It was horrible to hear these individuals target gay students. Muslim women were asked how many times they were raped. The list of horrific things said about Islam was disgusting. Obama was called "the n-word." Women were told to learn out of a cookbook. This group was horrible and they left saying they would be back. We need to make sure our students feel supported and comfortable at our campus. We also need to make sure they understand how to support their friends and fellow IVC students and channel their anger into productive intellectual and social responses.

And wouldn't it be great if there was a campus newspaper. We could reach a large number of students. Let them know what happened. Explain why the speakers were not removed. Explain the context of social protest. We could reach so many more students. How can we support free speech for these hateful individuals and quiet our own students by not allowing a newspaper to thrive on our campus?
Anonymous said…
They will be back (unfortunately) because they were so successful (by their standards). The "arrest" of a student was "success." They filmed it all and will use it to do the same elsewhere.

Our students do not see enough examples of robust constructive free speech on campus. So when this happens, there is an over-reaction.

Consider this: in order to host a "speaker" on campus, faculty must file a request (for approval which may not be given) ninety days in advance. This discourages efforts to create a vibrant campus community. Meanwhile these folks can come on any time they wish and get a crowd of 500 riled up.
Anonymous said…
Well-observed 6:54! What she/he said!
Anonymous said…
Thanks for posting about this.
Unknown said…
I was there and disputed about Free Speech on the campus when one of the two men told a female student "you dressed like a whore and assault my eyes". When the hateful speech directed at the individual that was not a Free Speech- it was a slander spilling filth and hatred. Yes, those two men have every right to exercise their beliefs but they cannot use their speech to cause harm to an individual.

I welcome they back because they were not even finishing reading the Bible and misquoted and had no knowledge of the last book of the Bible. It would be an opportunity to discuss more about Christian belief in depth and yes, they will also learn about free speech as well.

Pauley
P.April said…
The "fighting words" are not protected by First Amendment. In its 1942 decision Chaplinsky v. New Hampshire, the Court wrote that "fighting words are those that incite an immediate violent response. According to the Court, they “are no essential part of any exposition of ideas, and are of such slight social value as a step to the truth that any benefit that may be derived from them is clearly outweighed by the social interest in order and morality.”

Would one of the two men crossed the Free Speech line yesterday? Hurling a hateful word to that female student directly and specifically did incite her immediate violent response. Other students were trying to stop the further "bullying" on the campus.

Does IVC have the policy to regulate "bullying"? If the incident occurred by an IVC student calling another student "You are a Muslim whore" "Go home whore!" as one of that two men did, would that still be all right? Or could the female victim filed the complaint that the IVC promoting "bullying"?

Does IVC have the same standard regarding "this" Free Speech?

Pauley
Roy Bauer said…
The "incitement" standard is typically approached by the courts in relation to the reactions of a reasonable person, not an especially sensitive one. There was no incitement to violence yesterday; there was only expression of obnoxious, and even hateful, views. People need to get out more. This stuff is routine on college campuses. The appropriate response to such speakers is to ignore them. That is managed at college campuses every day. Not so much at IVC, since our students are protected from controversy by a right-wing administration that fears criticism and open discourse.
P.April said…
One of those two men wasn't exercising his Free Speech in general. Several times when he saw female students dressed in shorts or wore blouses without sleeves; he directly called them a "whore", asking those female students if they were sleep around (pre-requisite for going to hell). Those words were infringing the right of self-expression of those female students, were they not?

To think that this is America and it is OK to violate other women with words is truly abusing Free Speech. Of course, men, disguise under religious cover, have been degrading women over 5000 years ago. Nothing is new there! What happened at IVC courtyard yesterday was just the display of men's bruised ego under religious context (shallow one as those who have no deep understanding about the Book!)

When those two men were confronted by someone who truly know the content in the Bible and verses; they were temporary silent. Any Neo-Nazi group could walk and shout "Dead to the Jews" on the streets with full tolerance from bystanders--that because what the Ne0-Nazi did was expressing their belief and that act was fine. To target an individual , as one of those two men did with foul speech is NOT Free Speech.

Pauley.
Roy Bauer said…
12:46, just what are you smokin'? The right of free speech covers even very obnoxious speech, including opinery to the effect that someone is a "whore." Get a clue.
Anonymous said…
6:12 you are correct. This Administration is hypocritical when it says it supports free speech. They do as long as they agree with it, if they don't agree with what was said or if the PREZ, VPI or PIO in particular have their little power hungry egos bruised they absolutely slap-back.

I also agree with comments about the lack of a college news paper. We had one called 'The Voice' for about a decade in the 1990s. This was an award winning student newspaper, - uh, it was eliminated shortly after it published a few critical articles about the behavior of the then President and later SOCCCD Chancellor. Shutting down a critical press is Un-American but it is the type of thing dictators do, I'm just sayin'.

I completely support free speech, especially of the most obnoxious sort, at least then the vermin of hate can then be seen. I find it sad that possibly some of own students are unclear about the wonderful right and privilege (compared to many on this planet) of free speech. Let's teach it through practice and exercise. I do not believe our administration truly supports it however, watch out if you offend in particular the Ruling Oligarchy of Roquemore, Justice & Oaks.
Anonymous said…
IF we had a student newspaper, they would be able to respond to this incident - and other issues. The students would have a voice, a venue, an opportunity. We have nothing. The college sends emails to students and imagines, hopes, wishes they read them. Very sad. The absence of communication, a press, just makes things worse. Yes, an admin that chides the students for not realizing value of free speech and the first amendment !!!! after YEARS of Glenn and Co. squelching it ?????- HA HA HA HA HA HA HA. Who are you kidding? ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha

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