Students at Georgia Southern University were confronted by school staff and campus police last week while recruiting members for the Turning Point USA student group on campus. Staff told the conservative students that they needed to “fill out paperwork” in order to exercise free speech at the public university, and then proceeded to call the police when the students did not leave the public grounds.
An administrator at Georgia Southern University (GSU) told students that they needed to “fill out paperwork” in order to exercise free speech within the confines of the school’s designated “free speech zone,” a specific area on campus that school claims is approved for exercising free speech, as long as the space is reserved in advance.
The students, who were recruiting members for their Turning Point USA (TPUSA) chapter, decided not to leave an outdoor area on campus after GSU staff had requested for them to do so, resulting in the police being called as a last-ditch effort to force the students to comply with the school’s perplexing demand.
The apparent intimidation tactic, however, was futile, as the TPUSA students filmed their interaction with the officers, who admitted on video that they could not legally arrest the students for exercising free speech at the publicly-funded university, as seen in a report by Campus Reform.
“I don’t know of any laws you’re breaking,” said one officer, who said he was called by the university to ask the students to leave school property.
“If we do not leave, will we get arrested?” one individual can be heard asking a police officer.
“No,” responded one officer.
“Well, now, you will be judicially referred,” added the officer.
“What does that mean?” inquired a student.
“That means you’ll go in front of the Dean of Students for violating Georgia Southern policy,” responded the officer, suggesting that while the police cannot punish students for exercising their free speech rights on public grounds, the university can.
“They’re telling me you’re breaking policies, school policies,” added the officer, “But if you’re asking me about laws, which is mainly what I do here, I don’t know of any laws you’re breaking.”
The interaction begins at time-code 9:00 in the video.
Before the police were called, a school administrator told the students that they needed to fill out paperwork to request a reservation, even if they wanted to recruit within the bizarre “free speech zone,” a process that the administrator said would “probably” take “two to three days,” but advised students to fill the request out “two weeks out in advance.”
When the TPUSA students did not leave the area, student employees of the university were sent outside and tasked with convincing the conservative students to disperse, resulting in another bizarre conversation that was recorded on video, which can be heard starting at time-code 4:45 in the video.
“I know you said it’s their First Amendment right, I’m taking a constitutional law class right now, there are limitations to it,” said a GSU student employee.
“We’ll move over there [to the designated ‘free speech zone’],” said one individual.
“You’ve gotta reserve that spot too,” reacted the student employee.
“Here’s the issue though, we’re on public grounds, so this is a free speech zone, right?”
“No, this isn’t really public.”
“It gets public funding.”
“True, that doesn’t make it a public zone.”
The police were called shortly after the exchange between the students and GSU student staff members.
“I think this should be an example for the rest of the colleges in the country that this is a real problem,” said TPUSA Campus Coordinator Jackson Carter to Breitbart News, “This is part of the bigger issue that’s happening on college campuses — I know there are problems at places like UC Berkeley, but even at a school in Georgia, the problem is still there.”
“There’s a lot of promotion of mainly left-leaning ideologies, and the discouraging of anything that’s relatively conservative,” added Carter.
Although GSU did not answer Breitbart News’ question about why the university decided it was appropriate to call the police on its students, a GSU spokesperson told Breitbart News that as the university “reviews the matter” from last week, “additional training on school policies, including free expression and the First Amendment, will be provided.”
“Georgia Southern University students, faculty, and staff are free to express their views, individually or in organized groups, orally, by sign or exhibit, on any topic, in all parts of campus,” elaborated the GSU spokesperson to Breitbart News, adding that groups are “asked to reserve space in designated public forum areas on campus.”
“This is done to avoid simultaneous or competing assemblies and demonstrations,” added the spokesperson, “Our policy on Freedom of Expression sets forth these principles and the University’s dedication to upholding the First Amendment.”
You can follow Alana Mastrangelo on Twitter at @ARmastrangelo and on Instagram.