Students at Arizona State Trade Liberty for a Free Lunch

By May 1, 2013

A passion for promoting free speech and First Amendment rights is alive and well at Arizona State University’s Downtown Phoenix campus. Kim Olson, writing for ASU Downtown’s campus news site, Downtown Devil, reports that student members of the Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ) ASU Chapter hosted a First Amendment Free Food Festival, "Eat Free or Live Free," on their campus this past Monday. The group offered their classmates two pieces of "free" pizza—but at a steep price.

Olson explains how students qualified for their free lunch:

Participating students signed a sheet saying they temporarily forfeited their right to the First Amendment while in SPJ’s imaginary country, the Kingdom of the Socialist States of the People’s Republic.

After being given a passport to the fake country, they were instantly censored by those working at the tent.

Before getting their pizza, students’ possessions, including shirts, backpacks, hats, socks and even computers, were evaluated for logos. Any messages that were not condoned by the state were covered up with tape. Volunteers would ask to see students’ passports or photo identification.

As they got their pizza, students were harassed. Some people were yelled at for talking, standing by their friends or complaining about the quality of their food.

More than 160 students were willing to sign away their First Amendment rights, and only two dozen refused to participate after learning the requirements for receiving their pizza. One student even misunderstood the symbolic nature of the event pledge and thought she had actually accidently signed her rights away:

Monique Rollins, a 20-year-old exercise and wellness student, said she feared she may have signed her rights away for real.

"Don’t sign a petition and not read the fine print," Rollins said, warning others away of her mistake.

According to College Media Advisors and the Society of Professional Journalists, students have hosted similar First Amendment Food Festivals at colleges across the country, including the University of Baltimore, the University of Miami, Florida Atlantic University, and Grand Rapids Community College in Michigan. The purpose of the event was to show students what can happen when free speech rights are nonexistent and how the First Amendment can be so easily taken for granted. FIRE commends these students for raising awareness about this important issue on campus!

Schools: Arizona State University