UMass Amherst SGA Ejects Senator Standing Up for the First Amendment

By April 16, 2009

This is a must-read. Yesterday I reported on a resolution introduced to the UMass Amherst student government that would have resolved most of the First Amendment issues currently boiling over on campus, following the student government’s attempt to coerce a student organization to apologize for its protected expression or else be derecognized and essentially destroyed. But here’s what happened, according to the sponsor of the resolution:

Everything is a matter of public record with footage. I sent the bill to the speaker and associate speaker on Monday by 6 pm the deadline.

The speaker refused to put the bill on the agenda (when he’s not in a position to decide according to our Bylaws). I approached him and he said he took it off because he "didn’t like it." I explained that that didn’t matter, that it wasn’t in his purview to decide, and he refused to change his mind and put it on the agenda (I had been told that it was on the agenda, and never informed that it was off till the meeting was about to start).

So, I left the meeting and printed it off again and moved "to add a main motion not previously considered to the agenda" [but] the speaker said that it wasn’t a legal bill (even though lawyers signed off on it). I then moved to "overturn the decision of the speaker." He refused to hold that vote and moved on. I then rewrote the bill taking into account his points, however invalid. I then returned to the Senate and "asked to add a main motion not previously considered to the agenda." He asked to see it, I brought it up, he looked at it, and he said "NO" and threw it to the ground. I then picked it up and asked to "overturn the decision of the speaker." He refused to hold the vote (again violating the Bylaws).

I then asked to add it to the agenda again in between every motion, and the speaker refused to say yes or no (again violating the Bylaws). I explained that he had to say yes/no and then allow the Senate to overrule if it felt compelled. He refused. After 10 more questions he told me I was out of line, even though I had broken no bylaw. I then walked up to the podium and asked to add it to the agenda, and he refused to say yes/no and then told me to leave. I then explained to him that it was not in his purview to ask me to leave and the merits of my arguments. He then said I should leave immediately. I explained I would only leave if the Senate followed its procedure requiring the Senate to vote to kick me out. I said barring the Senate voting, "I will only leave if taken out by police." So the speaker called the police and they escorted me out of the meeting while the meeting was placed in recess. Meanwhile many Senators agreed with me and wanted to hear my arguments. All I wanted was a vote one way or the other. I passed out the sheets I have enclosed [the resolution and his explanation for it] as well as the letter from FIRE (as FIRE asked me to do). The Senate as a whole WANTED to hear the bill.

The police then refused me entry to the Senate meeting. I explained that I was required to be inside and that only the Senate could kick me out. University officials came, Byron Bullock and the RSO attorney, and agreed with my analysis but the police refused me entry three separate times, barring me from voting or bringing this to the agenda.

So that is what happens when you try to stand up for free speech.

Nothing I did was in violation of the SGA bylaws, and it’s a shame they don’t follow their own rules. If standing up for free speech requires my arrest so be it. It’s a small price to pay for the First Amendment.

The irony is, I don’t even like some of the things [T]he [M]inuteman says, but I will die for their right to say it [links added.]

It seems that UMass Amherst is unable to keep order on its own campus and that its SGA is utterly failing to respect its own students’ rights.

Schools: University of Massachusetts – Amherst Cases: University of Massachusetts at Amherst: Student Newspapers Stolen While Police Officer Watches University of Massachusetts at Amherst: Student Government Tries to Punish Conservative Newspaper