Discussion about free speech on campus sparked by protest

Mariah Valles, Editor-in-Chief

Patriot Prayer stood in front of Black Hall to voice their opinions on primarily First and Second Amendment rights. The group held American and “Don’t Tread on Me” flags. About 100 people attended the event.

Georgia Mallett

Counter protesters were were handing out earplugs, candy, bubbles and chalk to write messages on the concrete outside of Black Hall. At one point, there was a group of people playing a game of hacky sack.

According to a statement by President James L. Gaudino on April 1, Patriot Prayer is not considered a hate-based organization, but others representing extremes on both sides of the political spectrum have used Patriot Prayer events to draw attention to different subjects.

Gaudino spoke on free speech in regards to the organization protesting at CWU.

“I remind you that while Patriot Prayer has the right of free speech, each of you has the right to decide whether to engage or not to engage with members of the group,” Gaudino said in the statement.

CWU Police were present on campus during the event.

“Our role today with any type of activity on campus is to make sure that everybody has the ability to express their views in a safe manner,” CWU Chief of Police Jason Berthon-Koch said.

In the past, Patriot Prayer has worked with police departments. Some students questioned if CWU Police were present to protect Patriot Prayer as a priority.

“We’re not here to support one group or the other, we’re neutral and that’s what we do,” Berthon-Koch said. “To make sure that we provide a safe area for people to voice and use their first amendment.”

Some students held signs during the open debate. Hannah Oliver held a sign that said, “Ignore them come pet my dog” and brought her dog for people to pet. In about 30 minutes, Oliver said about 50 people pet her dog.

“I think free speech is important,” Oliver said.  “They should be able to say the things they want as long as it’s not hate speech and we should be able react in any way we want as long as it’s not hate speech.”

According to Oliver, “hate does not belong at CWU or anywhere else.”

Alyssa Bang, Patriot Prayer Portland Liberation member, said the group came to CWU because Joey Gibson, the founder of the organization, is an alumni of CWU. According to Bang, the group’s message is to work against the gun control initiative I-1639.

Bang supported First Amendment right of free speech.

“[With] free speech anybody should be able to say whatever they want wherever they want,” Bang said. “Just ‘cause somebody said something bad doesn’t mean everybody else doesn’t have the right to also disagree with them.”

There was confusion about how Patriot Prayer would conduct themselves.

“We are not violent. We are not discriminatory,” Bang said. “I’m trans and they accepted me with open arms.”

On Saturday, April 6 Patriot Prayer held a flash rally at 5:30 p.m. at Memorial Park and a freedom march at 8 p.m. starting at The Tav. About 20 people attended the flash rally.

Movimiento Estudiantil Chinana/o de Aztlán moved their planned unity march to Monday, April 8 at 3 p.m. at the Science lawn from April 6 at 11 a.m. According to a student who doesn’t want to be identified, this was due to a threatening phone call. The nature of the phone call was not divulged to The Observer.