“Free Expression Tunnel” No Longer Free at NC State

October 8, 2007

North Carolina State University persuades students to enroll by advertising their “Free Expression Tunnel,” which “gives students a venue for expressing their thoughts and feelings about anything.”

Well, not anything. According to a recent report, NC State officials regularly monitor the tunnel for things like “hate speech” and then paint over whatever they do not want others to see. Zachary Moser-Katz reports (see page image) that NC State official David Hatch sees such postings as “hate crime issues.” Jon Barnwell, captain of the campus police, told Moser-Katz:

There is a blanket rule for facilities to remove any speech that is deemed as inciting harmful actions against a particular individual or demographic … The whole idea is to provide a space for freedom of expression and artistic ability, not … for the slandering of someone’s name or the presentation of pornographic materials.

According to Facilities Maintenance Supervisor Sam Jeffries, his office takes a picture of potential “hate crime” violations and sends them to the police. If the police determine that a “hate crime” has been committed, the graffiti is removed.

That policy is reasonable most places around campus, where posting graffiti is already a crime, presuming that all graffiti is removed without any consideration of its content. But this policy betrays the point of the Free Expression Tunnel, where graffiti “about anything” may be posted.

“Hate speech,” however hateful, is almost always protected by the First Amendment. Very little such speech ever rises to the level of “inciting harmful actions.” For NC State to set up the tunnel as a public forum and then limit it on the basis of viewpoint is a violation of the Constitution. For NC State to advertise its Free Expression Tunnel to potential students as a place for unmonitored expression—but in reality to have a policy in which speech there is censored—is fraud and a mockery.

What is NC State calling “hate speech”? Is their standard like that of Gonzaga University? Gonzaga banned a flyer and punished the Gonzaga College Republicans for posting the flyer. The crime? Using the words, “Why the Left Hates America”—all because some people on campus objected to the word “hate” and found the language “discriminatory.”

NC State proudly displays the Free Expression Tunnel as a tradition. In one photo, a student has expressed some hate toward an entire national group:

I will still enjoy the show / as we nuke you till you glow … your holy man’s time is drawing near … our own army dances with delight at the chance to kick your ass left and right / you swine dogs

Does it matter who the target is? It shouldn’t. (It’s Iran, during the hostage crisis.) Would today’s NC State paint over this hateful speech? Sadly (and unconstitutionally), I bet they would.

Schools:  North Carolina State University – Raleigh