YCT-UT first amendment rights violated at freshman orientation

Blog / June 10, 2009

 Check out YCT Member Brianna Becker’s account of the incident below:



As members of Young Conservatives of Texas at UT, Dustin Matocha, Tyler Norris, Josh Perry and I wished to exercise our First Amendment right to make incoming Freshmen aware that we believe a certain mandatory program within their four day orientation experience is a session of unabashed indoctrination of liberal ideas.
To do this, we stationed ourselves approx. 45-50 yards across the street, in front of an entirely different and seperate building to pass out flyers which addressed the Diversity Training program. The flyers we were passing out was uniquely tailored to that particular event happening on campus that night. It was specifically geared at the Freshman entering the program, and directly addressed the events of the upcoming hour. 
We knew long lines and large groups of students would pass by this building on their way to the auditorium across the street. As they begin to pass by we simply extended a flyer out to those willing to take one, saying a few different phrases: "Enjoy the program!" "Enjoy the show!" "Welcome to your first Liberal Indoctrination at UT!" "Look up YCT." And variations of these.
A few minutes into our distribution, one of the Orientation Advisors (student volunteers which lead small groups of Freshmen through Orientation), accepted one of our flyers. More OA’s became interested, and we witnessed what appeared to be collaboration concerning the flyer near the auditorium, far from the four of us. We continued to pass out flyers, with friendly to apathetic reaction from the students. We heard no objections from them.  
Suddenly, we noticed two young male OA’s approaching us. One carried an object in his hand, but we could not tell what it was.
They proceded to engage us by immediately telling us we could not be there passing out flyers. They accused us of following the students excessively, and that we were barrading them with flyers. They continually asserted that because Greek organizations were not allowed to pass out materials to students anywhere but the designated tables in the designated pavillion, in the designated times, that we were also prohibited from doing so. We responded by asking politely to speak to an official SALD representative, or to be shown the Student Organization Handbook, in which rules relating to our conduct would be found.
We relayed to them what had been told to us earlier that evening by a SALD representative. In the words of Josh, "I do know that according to the SALD rep we talked to earlier that day, it was perfectly okay for us to pass out literature so long as we weren’t doing it in a reserved space. Since the Hogg Auditorium was the reserved area, and we were on the sidewalk of the FAC, I believe it is safe to say that we were completely in the clear."
They provided neither, finally conceding that they had no explicit authority to force us to cease. However, they made it quite clear we were personally upsetting them, and firmly asked us to leave. The OA’s repeatedly told Freshman not to take the flyers, and not to read them. They even began collecting some of the flyers from students.
All this one of them did with an outstretched arm clutching the severed leg of a table to create a physical barrier from the four of us and the steady stream of students. We were perceived as a physical threat because we wished to offer an alternate Conservative viewpoint to the new students of our University.
One of the main reasons they gave for asking us to refrain from our simple flyer distribution was that it was backing up the line entering the auditorium. They said it was obstructing the students from entering the auditorium.  However, as was plainly evident, the line came to a standstill on it’s very own because of simply physical obstructions, not because of 4 people simply handing out flyers to Freshman as they walked pass. The problem with the line back-up was the filtering of successive globs of nearly 500 students through approx. 4 doors. It’s called bottlenecking, and it is a natural phenomenal of nature. I think there’s even a physics equation to explain it, but that’s not my expertise. We did not stop to talk to the students, pull them aside, or do anything else to prevent them from walking into the auditorium. If we had, then we would have been obstructing the flow of traffic. However, as stated, we did not of those things. 
The dialogue continued, and closely resembled this recount I have constructed. Granted, I did not record the confrontation, but I do call on the affirmation of the 3 other YCT witnesses as to the accurracy of the account.  

The OA’s asserted, "This is inappropriate. This is an inappropriate time and place. You’ve already had your chance. You’ve already talked to all these people." They also asked, "What difference is this going to make?" "Do you really think anyone is going to read this?"


The point we would like to make, and that every proponet of free speech would agree on, is that the particular message or effectiveness of the speech does not matter, it is the speech itself which is intrinsically protected under the Constitution. The exchange of ideas freely, and the appearance of an environment in which that happens is valuable to soceity. Basically, it does not doesn’t matter if they read it or not. It doesn’t matter if we gain one new member out of that particular flyer. We do not have to prove the merit or effectiveness, or even show a demand for our speech. We have the right to say what we believe, as long as it does not incite violence, or is unduly obscene. That is what freedom of speech is all about. The burden is not on the speaker to prove it worthy of evading prohibtion. The speech, in essence, is not guilty until proven innocent. Imagine a world were all speech must be approved by a majority, or by those in charge of a particular locality. Or even where one must come before a tribunal to argue why their ideas should be allowed to be let out into the public ear.
Ironicly, as we realize now, the OA’s oppressing our viewpoint was really the best help we could ask for. What is the first thing you want to do when you are told not to read something? Read it! We had more students taking flyers just to see what all the fuss was about. They were curious why their Group Leader was so threatened by our papers and pressence that he felt the need to use the leg of a table to physically seperate these 4 normal looking older kids from the crowd of Freshmen. How dangerous can this piece of paper be? What do they know that I’m not supposed to? Can’t I decide for myself? Some were undoubtedly asking themselves.
In another exchange, following Josh handing out a flyer with the words "" an OA asked us, "Why do you have to say that?"

I (Brianna) responded, "That’s what’s on our flyer…that’s what we believe the goal of this part of orientation is. Look, we are just trying to give these new students a voice of their own. We want to encourage them to think anayltically about all they are being told, and to retain an open mind."


"You think they need you to tell them that? They’re at UT!"


"Well you are the one telling them they can’t read something. Telling them what they can’t look at. That concerns us, to say the least. I didn’t know ya’ll had such a tight grasp on them…you’re right in saying there at UT, that’s why I don’t understand ya’ll’s objection – they’re smart kids, they can decide for themselves about our flyer. If they trash it they trash it."


"It’s not that…no…we’ just don’t want them distracted. We don’t want them reading that flyer in the program."


Immediately, there are two things wrong with that concern. First, the lights are turned off in the auditorium while the program is running, so the students would not be able to read the non-glow-in-the-dark flyers anyway. Secondly, he flyer is no more than 250 words…in bold print. Net loss of time reading the flyer, approx. 15 seconds.
The two OAs continued to ask us to leave, acknowledging that they had no legal right, nor enforcing rules to do so. They simply did not want us there, and were making it quite clear to students that we were a mennance.