Students debate freedom of speech at rally

Hate speech and other controversial topics were discussed during the event

Sophomore Matt Molitor dresses in a cow suit to advocate for animal rights and veganism Wednesday.

Tensions rose Wednesday on the steps of Todd Hall, as students debated the definition of free speech during a rally at WSU.

Noah White, Young Americans for Liberty vice president, said the rally was created in response to the sit-in held last Friday in which students asked the university to define hate speech versus free speech in their policies.

White said hate speech is within free speech and, therefore, cannot be separated. He, as well as other members of the club, said that calls to violence are not acceptable.

College Republicans President Amir Rezamand held a sign that said, “What is hate speech?” The sign was intended to create a discussion about hate speech. He said many people believe there is a political agenda behind it, but he believes that isn’t the case and separates it from calls to violence.

Former College Republicans president James Allsup said hate speech was a subjective term and not real. He added limiting free speech impedes upon intellectual freedoms. He said removing certain aspects of freedom of speech would pose potential legal action against the university.

“You think it’s smart and wise to ban hate speech, or evil, Neo-Nazis or whatever you say that I am, which I’m not, it’s free speech and I’m going to use it,” he said. “You don’t like it then you can leave America.”

JONI COBARRUBIAS | The Daily Evergreen
Students engage in a conversation with Former College Republicans President James Allsup about his views and presence at Charlottesville.

At one point, the mic was open to the crowd to express their freedom of speech.

One student, sophomore Matt Molitor, dressed in a cow suit with tape over his mouth, removed the tape around his mouth to speak about the importance of animal rights. Some students spoke about their desire to smoke inside, and others shouted their disagreement to Allsup’s speech.

A female student, Lauren Palmer, held a “Black Lives Matter” sign and spoke in response to Allsup.

“I don’t agree with him,” she said, “and he has the right to say he doesn’t agree with me. That is what freedom of speech is about.”

David Mclerran, event organizer and Young Americans for Liberty president, said he didn’t agree with Allsup on many issues either, but felt freedom of speech was important in shaping this country with leaders like Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcom X were able to make change.

“Dissent is pivotal to this country,” he said. “Any social movement that contradicts the laws of the land was based upon free speech.”

One student interrupted him, exclaiming her thoughts against hate speech.

“This country was founded on genocide,” she said. “This country was founded on the language of genocide.”

As the rally came to a close, many students gathered around Allsup, debating with him the issues of freedom of speech. One student, who openly supported free speech, told Allsup that the controversies surrounding him took away support for the movement.

“I think your presence at a free speech rally taints what free speech is about,” the student said.

Allsup responded by saying he was stating his opinion and the mic was available for anyone to use, which the majority didn’t.

Another student responded by saying it was students’ right to use hate speech, but not their right to pursue hate acts.

My version of free speech is [it is] your right to say what you want,” he said. “It goes only so far as it doesn’t infringe upon my rights as a human being.”

Phil Weiler, vice president of WSU marketing and communications, also attended the event. He said it was a challenge for constitutional scholars to define clear definitions between hate speech and calls to violence in some cases. He said hate speech is a new term that has a lot of misconception tied to it. Constitutionally, he said the university has to allow offensive, inflammatory speech, but cannot advocate for violence.

Even so, he said, the administration is actively working to make policies about freedom of speech and calls to violence clearer and separate, while still keeping freedom of speech laws intact.

“We’re not trying to shut down conversation, but create more conversation,” he said.

Mclerran said he invited both the WSU College Republicans and WSU Young Democrats to participate in the rally in hopes to have a bipartisan rally. Though members from the WSU College Republicans came, the Young Democrats released a statement stating they would not attend.

“The Young Democrats of Washington State University proudly support free speech, but refuse to endorse the corrupted usage of free speech this campus has witnessed by many of this protest’s demonstrators in its name,” the organization stated.