CWU hosts First Amendment Fest

Nicholas Tucker, Staff Reporter

The First Amendment is a big part of everyday American life.. Slander and obscenity laws aside, the First Amendment is what allows the American people to speak their minds without fear of retaliation by those in power.

However, confidence in the First Amendment and support for it is dropping. In a survey conducted by the Knight Foundation, nearly two-thirds of college students said that they believe freedom of speech is secure, down from almost 75 percent in 2016.

To keep students educated about their rights and the value of these rights, CWU will be hosting a First Amendment Festival from April 20 to 27 in the SURC.

A fair number of topics the festival will be covering are related to recent events, including the ongoing national conversation on how to combat hate speech.

Ari Cohn, director of Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), who has a history of advocating against limiting free speech on college campuses will speak on the right to listen on April 24. After violence broke out during a political speaker’s presentation at the University of Washington, controversial guest speakers were charged with a $17,000 fee to pay for heightening security. Cohn and FIRE spoke out against this.

“If they simply try to pass those costs on they’re going to be depriving their students,” Cohn said in an interview with Crosscut. “Pretty soon nobody is going to be able to say anything because it’s going to be too expensive.”

Another issue that the First Amendment Festival will cover is propaganda use. CWU history professor Daniel Herman and assistant professor of Russian studies Volha Isakava will be leading a panel called “War of the Minds,” which looks at the use of propaganda historically and in recent years by governments of Russia and the United States.

“Propaganda is a First Amendment issue,” Herman said. “The sort of propaganda I will discuss refers specifically to the government’s attempt to control the discussion of political issues. If the government is successful in shaping and limiting conversation, it is also by definition limiting free speech.”

Along with discussion, the First Amendment Festival will also host activities designed to educate and demonstrate the power and value of free speech. One such activity will be “Food for Thought” which, without giving too much away, provides attendees with the chance to trade their First Amendment rights for a free slice of pizza.