Free speech forum set for Wednesday

Caroline Kimbro, Reporter

On the heels of last week’s open-air preachers and protesters at Marshall University, the discussion concerning First Amendment rights will continue in “Critical Conversation: Free Speech” Wednesday at noon in Room BE5 of the Memorial Student Center. The event will feature R.B. Bookwalter, Patricia Proctor and Dan Hollis as speakers.

Marshall President Jerry Gilbert said the event is timely, following the events of last week, and will provide a forum for students to voice their concerns about the preachers and question the limits of such presenters’ First Amendment rights.

“It’s going to be a great opportunity for our students to express their concerns, talk to people that are very knowledgeable about the First Amendment and what we should allow and what we might want to consider not allowing,” Gilbert said.

Gilbert said the free speech conversation will be more constructive in a setting detached from the preachers, who may not be willing to have a calm conversation.

“I think it’s going to be a very good follow-up to this week because I think it will sort of allow students to understand better and express their concerns and dialogue with rational people about the issue,” Gilbert said. “Because you can’t – when someone is as extreme as the preacher was – you can’t get into a discussion with him even though he might have some valid points, his MO is not going to be to talk to them rationally. That’s just not the way he’s operating, even though he may have a right”

Patricia Proctor, a professor of political science and director of the Simon Perry Center, said the discussion will likely center around the basics of the First Amendment, laws pertaining to First Amendment rights, the limitations on free speech and ethical concerns surrounding speech.

“I believe we’ll also talk about even if people are free to say particular things, what should they say?” Proctor said. “What kinds of ethical standards do we apply in our day-to-day conduct and discourse with each other, and is there a place on campus for paying attention
to that?”

Proctor said it’s a sensitive, but timely issue to discuss and she is looking forward to the questions students will raise during the discussion.

“I think there will be the technical discussion, but I think there will also be philosophical discussion,” Proctor said. “I think that both in keeping with what’s going on around the country and on our own campus, it’s a good idea to talk about it.”

Gilbert said encountering people with differing opinions can be a constructive experience, and college campuses provide a unique opportunity for this type of experience.

“It’s good for us to see people we don’t agree with, and I think it adds, you know, an atmosphere of being on a real college campus when you have someone like that come on,” Gilbert said. “Because you’re not going to see that out in the streets normally.”

Caroline Kimbro can be contacted at [email protected]