Students sign away their First Amendment rights

Abigail Fallon | Staff Reporter
February 18, 2015; 12:21 p.m.

In honor of LU’s annual Sibley Day, the Society of Professional Journalists student organization hosted its second First Amendment Free Food Festival.

This one2
Abigail Fallon and Lauren Merz sign away their First Amendment rights.

Before entering the event, participants had to “sign away” their First Amendment rights in exchange for food. As I was about to step into the room, SPJ member Cayla Brown asked, “Are you wearing any logos?” and made me turn around so that she could check my clothing. When I asked why it mattered, she responded, “Because logos are a form of free speech.”

A pile of “passports,” the cover of which read, “Eat free or live free! You can’t do both!” were available by the door. It outlined the First Amendment and provided a brief history of the U.S. Constitution and the Bill of Rights and said, “Like love, money and beer, you don’t really notice your rights until they’re no longer handy. Allow us to demonstrate…”

Upon entering the room, the one other visitor and I were told where to sit and ordered not to speak to each other. We were asked to praise a large, stuffed banana, SPJ’s “deity”, named Ricardo. Giggling ensued, and SPJ member Jason Wiese ordered us to be quiet. He bantered with us, clad in aviator sunglasses with something that resembled a lollipop stick protruding from the corner of his mouth.

When we were finally allowed to have our pizza and soda, Wiese said, “Abby gets root beer and Lauren gets 7UP,” without asking if we had a preference.

As three more visitors arrived, SPJ President Emily Adair said, “I see that some of you are wearing ash on your foreheads. I’m sorry I don’t know what that’s called, but I want you to say ‘Praise Ricardo the banana.’” The participants hesitated and cast dubious glances at one another. Eventually, they conceded, and they, too, were allowed to get food.

The moderators allowed people to write complaints but said that they would go to “Helen Wait.” After we finished our food, we were told that we could leave.

The event was designed to show students the importance of their First Amendment rights, which are often taken for granted. In total, 42 people signed away their rights for a slice of pizza, while only two refused to do so.

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