My Constitution Day started out great. I watched the Schoolhouse Rock "Preamble" song a few times to get into the Constitutional spirit (until I thought Peter would send a cease-and-desist letter from his office next door).
The wise and catchy Schoolhouse Rock gang tells us the brief history of the Constitution. But the real story lies in how we–The People–interpret the founders’ words today. Their aspiration to a more perfect union rings a little hollow when I read headlines like this morning’s: Student tears down "Free Speech Wall."
Just like that, my buoyant mood crashed, Hindenburg-style, before I had finished my morning coffee. A free speech wall was one of the ideas I encouraged students to try on the Torch earlier this month, but these were not the photos I had envisioned.
That this Pepperdine University student’s first impulse was to censor by destroying the free speech wall because he disagreed with some of its statements proves that the advocacy FIRE engages in on Constitution Day and throughout the year is essential to changing the anti-liberty culture that exists on too many campuses.
The Constitution Day events going on today give me cause to hope. Students are holding celebrations and handing out pocket Constitutions at schools across the country, including several of our 2010 FIRE Interns. FIRE’s own Samantha Harris was invited to speak at West Chester University yesterday as part of its Constitution Day celebration, and she had a thoughtful conversation with an audience of engaged students. Many schools will be hosting voter registration drives, like this one at Owens College (Grambling State University should take note, as they are currently banning students from transmitting any messages that "imply" support for a candidate via the university’s e-mail system).
The College Libertarians at Pepperdine have even re-posted their Free Speech Wall. But they will not soon forget the campus censor who attempted to end their discussion. In an article about the incident, the Pepperdine Graphic wrote:
Throughout the week, students expressed mixed feelings about the wall around campus. Some responded with their words on the wall or in discussions with friends, while only one student made a finalizing move to cease the conversations.
That one "finalizing move" was enough to inspire disbelief and dismay on campus. When she saw that the wall had been torn down, a student said "I planned on reading it today, too…I can’t believe someone tore it down." Another joked, "Did free speech disappear?"
Take a minute to celebrate the Constitution today. Prove to that would-be Pepperdine censor that in our society, as Jonathan Rauch put it, "we kill our hypotheses instead of each other." That’s my idea of a more perfect union. I like to think that Thomas Jefferson would agree.