Steps being taken to improve First Amendment rights at ECU

GREENVILLE, N.C. (WNCT) – East Carolina University has come under fire from some who feel as if their First Amendment rights are being violated.

The First Amendment discussion intensified in the Fall after some members of the ECU marching band knelt during the national anthem at a football game. Since then, some students have spoken out about free speech on campus.

On Monday, controversial figure Tomi Lahren spoke to a sold out crowd of 700 people in Hendrix Theatre. The university made the decision to exclude media during the event, prompting more concerns about First Amendment rights.

Later, ECU released a statement on the incident saying, “Contracts for speakers do not allow for recordings which is why we asked to have the media availability. Not having media in some events is not unusual at ECU especially for events in Hendrix because it’s a smaller venue. We did tickets because the venue is small. Our larger venue, Wright was already booked for this date. This event was sold out and requires a valid student ID and ticket to enter.”

Lahren was speaking about the importance of free speech to the crowd.

“Free speech isn’t just saying what you want to say, it’s also hearing things you don’t want to hear, and that’s okay,” she said before the event.

But some students feel as if this may just be the latest example in their rights being infringed on.

“We’ve been working with ECU since the fall semester to change these policies,” said Giovanni Triana, director of ECU’s Turning Point USA.

The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) is national group focusing on maintaining, and expanding, individual rights at universities. They rank universities using a red, yellow and green light based on policies relating to individual rights.

ECU was given a yellow light by FIRE, due in large part because students have to get prior permission to assemble, and once permission is granted, are limited in where they can gather.

“This really infringes on student’s rights to free speech because protests and demonstrations are often spontaneous,” said Samantha Harris, VP of Police Research for FIRE. “You know something happens and part of the message is the immediacy.”

Under new regulations set to be released by the university this week, freedoms would be expanded on campus. ECU Provost Ron Mitchelson said one of the changes would deal with prior permission being required to assemble.

“Student groups can in fact express themselves at any time, and anywhere on this campus,” he said.

Mitchelson said there would be exceptions, especially if the movement turned violent or disrupted classes.

Free speech at universities is also being debated by state lawmakers. A Republican House Bill would ensure rights of students weren’t being infringed on.

To read more about FIRE and see how other schools rank, click here.

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