EXCLUSIVE: Emails reveal university president ‘struggled with supporting free speech’ for Christian activist’s appearances on campus
Campus Reform obtained three emails showing how Salem State University has responded to a Christian activist exercising his First Amendment rights on campus this semester.
The university amended its free speech policy only a month after confirming the Christian's legal right to be on campus.
A Christian activist’s appearances at Salem State University prompted the institution to change its free speech policies while being legally compelled to uphold the individual’s First Amendment rights.
Campus Reform has previously covered the activist, Chike Uzuegbunam during his legal fights to exercise free speech as he publicly promotes his religious views, which have come under scrutiny for their purported anti-LGBTQ messages.
In October 2020, Uzuegbunam won his Supreme Court case against his institution after Georgia Gwinnett that his speech, which included controversial flyers, “should not be constitutionally protected,” Campus Reform reported in March.
Campus Reform obtained three Salem State University emails ranging from Sept. 20 to Oct. 22 showing that while the school did uphold Uzuegbunam’s First Amendment right to free speech, it also amended its “Freedom of Speech Policy” to include “72 hours’ notice for reservation of space for expressive activities.”
Additionally, the Oct. 22 email states, “University officials are actively monitoring the visitor’s activities on campus. We are made aware of his presence as soon as he arrives. University police remain close by when he is present.”
But these updates outlined in the Oct. 22 email arguably marked a different tone taken by the university in the previous emails.
President John Keenan wrote to students Oct. 12:
"Since this person's arrival, I have struggled with supporting free speech while wanting to quickly remove him from our campus...But as a lawyer, I also have the responsibility to uphold the Constitution to the best of my ability. I believe free and unfettered speech is the best way to uphold this most cherished of rights.”
A Salem State University student did tell Campus Reform that Keenan’s stance on free speech was reassuring.
“I will say that the president does respect the First Amendment to an extent which is respectable in some way, because if he did not respect free speech and expression ‘the visitor’ would have been removed promptly by campus police,” the student said, requesting anonymity.
Likewise, university officials’ Sept. 20 communication to students had a straightforward tone about Uzuegbunam’s First Amendment rights.
The email read:
“Although the visitor’s presence is not sanctioned by the university, the state-action doctrine and the First Amendment requires Salem State to allow the exercising of free speech on public property. As long as the visitor continues to operate within the boundaries of the law, unfortunately, they cannot be banned from campus.”
All three emails obtained by Campus Reform detailed services available to LGBTQ students at the university prior to LGBTQ+ Action Committee’s letter.
Campus Reform reached out to President Keenan, Salem State University, and Chike Uzuegbunam for comment, but did not receive a response.
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