In a move that’s a slap across the face of every patriotic American, the Southern Methodist University in Texas relocated its annual 9/11 memorial flag display from in front of the campus’ iconic Dallas Hall to a less visible area to avoid exposing the community to “triggering, harmful, or harassing” messages.
The memorial is the work of the Young Americans for Freedom (YAF) student group. Since 2015 YAF has organized the 9/11 Never Forget Project, which YAF Chairman Grant Wolf describes as “a memorial of 2,977 American flags in a visually stunning display that represents each of the 2,977 Americans murdered by Al Qaeda terrorists in September 2001.”
The display, once revered by SMU as a “sea of red, white and blue” and “a lovely tribute” in front of Dallas Hall where many students hang out and socialize, is now being relegated to a more obscure location at MoMac Park, as not to hurt the feelings of those less American among us.
SMU President Gerald Turner defended the university’s position in an email sent to Wolf by stating it instituted a new memorial lawn display policy. Student groups are no longer permitted to use the Dallas Hall lawn for “any type of visual recognition or commemoration of an event or political or social issue.” It went on to explain that examples of items used in a display of this sort include, but are not limited to crosses and flags.
“The University respects the right of all members of the SMU community to express their opinions. The University also respects the right of all members of the community to avoid messages that are triggering, harmful, or harassing. Those rights come with responsibility not to abuse or violate civil and property rights of others, or to interfere in the conduct of University business.”
After receiving blowback for relocating the event due to messaging that might be “triggering,” the university president later acknowledged he had reworded the policy in an August 1 statement: “SMU respects the rights of all campus community members to express their opinions, as well as their right to be free from coercion and harassment. The policy has been further updated to better reflect this balance and to remove the poor wording regarding triggering or harmful messages.”
Wolf, however, is not buying the president’s excuses for undermining the First Amendment and the principle of free speech. He found it convenient that the same month his request went out to secure the proper approvals for the memorial, the university changed its policy and relocated the display to a space he describes as “unquestionably less visible and further removed from students’ everyday activities.”
He also questioned the rationale behind the relocation and whether the university fully understands the principle of free speech in a statement on the YAF website.
“Freedom of speech does not mean insulating individuals from opposing or unpopular ideas. It means that every individual and organization has the right to present their ideas and arguments for consideration, discussion, and contention in the forum of public debate,” Wolf states. “The exposure to and interaction with opposing ideas and worldviews is foundational to cultivating students’ ability to critically evaluate arguments and ascertain truth. Ironically, SMU’s Latin motto, a Biblical quotation, reads ‘Veritas Liberavit Vos – The Truth Shall Set You Free.’ At the same time, the University is actively restricting the pursuit of truth by preventing students from publicly demonstrating and presenting their ideas to their peers in an accessible, visible forum.”
He further goes on to assert, “But this new action by the University represents a significant change in the status quo regarding freedom of speech on campus, and the rationale their policy provides is not acceptable. In such a time where universities across the United States such as UC Berkeley, Cal State Los Angeles, De Paul, UW Madison, Evergreen, Middlebury, and others continue to cave to the demands and violent threats of free speech opponents, SMU has an opportunity to make a bold stand for the First Amendment and embrace vigorous debate, not safe spaces, as the modus operandum on campus – to restore honest intellectual inquiry and the pursuit of truth as the foundation of academia.”
YAF, however, is not alone in its pursuit of intellectual inquiry, open discussion and the exchange of ideas on campus. In a bipartisan effort to effect change on campus, YAF is being supported by other student groups, including, Mustangs for Life, SMU College Republicans, Turning Point USA at SMU, SMU College Democrats, and the SMU Feminist Equality Movement.
Perhaps this younger generation at SMU is going to show UC Berkeley the true meaning of the First Amendment and what freedom of speech is all about.