Students at Southern Illinois University called the police on a group of conservative students who were engaging in a free speech exercise that involved a beach ball.
The “free speech ball” exercise encourages students to celebrate their right to express themselves by writing down a message on a beach ball and tossing it to one of their peers the on the quad so that they may do the same. Despite the seemingly innocuous nature of the exercise, some students at Southern Illinois University found beach ball threatening and called campus law enforcement to express their concern.
In a disturbing exchange with law enforcement, the students are wrongly told that their campus is not a public place and that they needed to put the ball away because it was “freaking a lot of people out.”
“This is not considered like a public place. Right now, we’re going to have to put the ball away,” one officer explained. “It’s freaking a lot of people out.” “Students are calling in because they’re scared,” the officer added.
“It’s the ball that’s creating…people are scared of the beach ball?” one onlooker asked the officers.
“Yeah,” the officer replied, “people are reporting that they’re scared of the beach ball, and what’s going on here.”
The students expressed concern that the officers were infringing upon their First Amendment rights. “I’m not going to try to infringe on your Constitutional rights, but at the same time everybody else around here has rights also,” the officer explained. “And they have a right to go to and from class, and not feel intimidated by what you’re representing or your ball.
In a statement, the Executive Director of University Marketing and Communications Doug McIlhagga claimed that the students didn’t follow proper procedure for establishing activism events. The activists engaging in the beach ball exercise were in violation of the university’s policy “governing freedom of expression and demonstration activities,” according to an administrator.
“The demonstrators didn’t follow the proper University procedure for a public forum by going through the Vice Chancellor of Administration’s Office for approval,” he explained. “We normally get the ‘Request For Use Of The Designated Public Forum’ form. However in this particular instance, we did not.”