School officials ordered the deflation of a club’s “Free Speech Ball” today, saying that it was covered in hate speech and obscenities that go against the district’s student conduct standards.
An administrator and a campus security officer approached members of the Young Americans for Liberty Club in front of the C Building at about 1:45 p.m. and told them that the messages and drawings students had written on the ball as part of a free-speech activity were not allowed on campus.
“We are looking at the fact that there is a penis, so the concern right now is that it is inappropriate and it’s against our code of conduct,” Associate Dean of Student Development Jennifer De La Rosa said while pointing at a swastika and other phallic drawings drawn by non-club members. “It is also perceived that there are some symbols of hate speech [on it].”
While hate speech is protected by the First Amendment, Santa Ana College’s code of student conduct states that “vulgarity…racial epithets and hate speech” are not allowed on campus. Fighting words, including those that incite imminent lawless action or violence, are not protected under the First Amendment.
“We think everyone has the right to say whatever they want…that’s what I want, to protect everyone’s freedom, even if I don’t agree with it,” said Young Americans for Liberty club member Jocabed Torres-Bernal. “Even if it’s hate speech.”
During the tense confrontation, which lasted about 15 minutes before the ball was deflated, club members questioned the authority of the school officials to censor free speech like the kind written on the ball.
Club president Andrew Rivas said that if the object in which the messages were written on was at a table, they knew they would have to take it down, but since it was a moveable object, they argued that no removal was necessary.
“You can be free and have as much free speech as you want but if you want to be a student here, you have to abide by the student code of conduct,” Campus Safety Officer Julian Levin can be heard telling club members in an Instagram Live video of the encounter posted by Torres-Bernal.
Young Americans for Liberty Club members carry markers and roll the human-sized beach ball around campus about twice a month as part of a free speech activity that encourages students to exercise their First Amendment rights. The prompt usually results in a range of responses, from Snapchat usernames to politically charged opinions.
“If it comes back, you’re going to have continued violations,” De La Rosa said before club officer Boston Bolles slowly deflated the ball.
“It’s going to be back,” Torres-Bernal said.
Reporting by Jessica Arredondo, Luisa Bulnes-Shaw, Kate Bustamante, Bre Castaneda, Lizeth Fuentes, Aron Hernandez, Levi Mondoza and Karen Rodriguez