The University is zoning out free speech

April 6, 2006

This week, a controversy arose concerning two campus groups, GU Right to Life and H-yas for Choice, and the hanging of displays outside of Red Square, Georgetown’s only free speech zone. The University must extend the right of free speech to cover the entire campus if it hopes to create a student body that values dialogue and debate.

The issue at hand is H-yas for Choice’s hanging of a counter-demonstration to GU Right to Life’s annual display on Copley Lawn. University maintenance took down the H-yas for Choice banner, which was hanging in Red Square, for violating a “no hanging in trees” policy, and despite claiming that a Right to Life banner was in violation of the policy as well, the latter group’s sign remained up for several more hours.

This conflict brings to light an important campus issue. As a private university, Georgetown has the right to restrict free speech on its campus, and does so by restricting demonstrations (especially ones that run contrary to Catholic doctrine) in all areas except Red Square. But as a liberal arts university, Georgetown has the responsibility to foster an atmosphere of dialogue that can never be achieved as long as certain voices are stifled. Denying student groups the right to express their points of view goes against the intellectual ideals of a progressive educational institution.

Georgetown should encourage debate about all ideas that students are passionate about, even controversial ones. Informed dialogue promotes intellectual progress, creates a more involved and engaged student body and eventually leads to greater respect among organizations who hold opposing opinions.

The University already has a history of allowing groups and events from all areas of the political spectrum, even with beliefs counter to Catholic doctrine, to exist across campus. Examples include GU Pride and the College Republicans, who support the death penalty.

Georgetown administrators clearly believe in free speech, as evidenced by the daily tabling and posters they allow in Red Square. But Red Square is not enough. “I continue to view Red Square as a vibrant and effective free speech zone—a quick look through Red Square today illustrates the wide range of views that students are expressing and are free to express,” University Vice President of Student Affairs Todd Olson said yesterday. If Red Square is an effective free speech zone, imagine how much better a campus-wide free speech zone would be.

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