Conservative students at Southern Illinois University were informed by police that their “free speech ball” was “freaking out” leftist students on campus, who complained about its presence on campus.
In a video obtained by Campus Reform, conservative student activists from Turning Point USA, the Leadership Institute and Young Americans for Liberty can be seen speaking to police officers. The students were welcoming other students to write messages on the beach ball to exercise their First Amendment rights.
Campus police stopped the students from doing so, informing them that the school received numerous reports from students who were “scared” by the ball. The police told them that they were not operating in a public space. “This is not considered like a public place. Right now, we’re going to have to put the ball away,” said an officer, adding that the ball was “freaking a lot of people out.”
An activist who stood up to the police asked to know what specific policy the group had been violating, as they were simply exercising their right to free speech in a public space.
“Well, I don’t think it’s considered a public place,” the officer responded, but relented to suggestions that the school was funded by the state of Illinois. He suggested that the students sign up to make their event official with the school, reiterating that other students were scared of the ball.
Other students can be heard asking if people were afraid of a beach ball. The officer replied in the affirmative. “Yeah,” he said. Another officer added with some resignation that “people are reporting that they’re scared of the beach ball, and what’s going on here.”
The officer said that it wasn’t his intention to infringe on the conservative students’ constitutional rights, “but at the same time everybody around here has rights also. And they have a right to go to and from class, and not feel intimidated by what you’re representing or your ball.” The police and the students eventually agreed to have the free speech ball remain, so long as it was on the grass and not on the walkway.
Southern Illinois University informed Campus Reform that it believes the student activists violated school policy “governing freedom of expression and demonstration activities” by not seeking approval for their activity.