All too often on college campuses, police forget that their job is to protect students, not censor them. Over the weekend, Dean Saxton, a student preacher at the University of Arizona (UA), was arrested twice for disorderly conduct because of his preaching.
The first arrest, by the Tucson Police Department, followed Saxton’s claims that he was being assaulted by a man who wanted to take his megaphone and silence his preaching. The Tucson PD, now under scrutiny for possible police misconduct on Saturday night, was already on campus to watch for riots after a basketball game. Saxton didn’t take part in the riots but was still arrested for disorderly conduct because of the conflict over his megaphone.
The next day, UA Police Department officers again arrested Saxton for disorderly conduct and disturbing the peace at a charity event. The event was held outside, on the UA Mall—a public area in which Saxton can expect free speech protections, especially as a UA student. Saxton claims other attendees punched him and tried to take his sign, and The Daily Wildcat did not report any claims that Saxton actually acted disorderly.
This is not the first time a student preacher has been punished because other students disagreed with his message; the same thing happened recently at Thomas Nelson Community College (TNCC) in Virginia, where a student preacher was stopped from preaching on campus. While the TNCC student was censored under his college’s unconstitutional demonstration policies, and Saxton was arrested under a narrower provision, each case is a worrying example of institutions of higher education silencing students simply because of their viewpoint.
According to Saxton, the police violated his rights rather than protecting them. He was right when he argued that the police “should have protected my free speech in a public area.” College administrators and campus police must not censor students and discriminate against their viewpoints just because the message is controversial. When students are offended by viewpoints like Saxton’s, more speech—not police-aided censorship—is the appropriate response.