Friday, October 20, 2006

It Pays to Read the Small Print

Students learn about First Amendment’s importance
Scott Travis • South Florida Sun-Sentinel
Friday, October 20, 2006

BOCA RATON, Fla.—The invitations looked innocuous, promising a free lunch to any Florida Atlantic University student who attended a festival celebrating the recognition of the First Amendment.

But what most students missed next to the giant free food heading was the asterisk referring them to a warning in tiny print: Sure it’s all free after you sign a form temporarily waiving your First Amendment rights.

The joke was all part of a Constitution Day event, designed to teach students about the importance of the First Amendment, which guarantees freedom of speech, the press, religion and assembly. Students from the University Press campus newspaper and Sigma Phi Epsilon fraternity organized the event.

Students who signed in were harassed. Those who ate together were told to separate, because there was no freedom of assembly. When they complained, they were told they had no right to file grievances.

FAU senior Nicoy Latouche was eating with his friends when he was told he had no right to assemble. He refused to leave, and a loud exchange ensued.

“I don’t want to leave, and you guys can’t make me leave!” he shouted.

“You signed away your rights!” one of the student guards told him.

Latouche eventually prevailed. He didn’t know what was going on when he arrived, thinking it was just a routine festival with free food. But he said he was proud that he stood up for himself.
“If I had left, I would have been sorry for the rest of my life,” he said. “I know I’m free, and I would die for my rights.”

One unsuspecting student after another signed up to get passports for entry and free food and drinks from Quiznos, Pizza Hut, Burger King, Starbucks and Pepsi.

The outdoor area behind the University Center was decorated to resemble a foreign country where no First Amendment rights exist.

There was a guardhouse, a Dictator’s Lounge and a band playing March of the Soviet Tankmen.
Organizers received grant money from the Society of Professional Journalists, the Student Press Law Center and other groups to pay for the food. A crowd of 300 students showed up, and organizers ran out of food halfway through.

Sevy Gac, vice president of Sigma Phi Epsilon, said he is glad the encounters got a bit tense.
“It’s important for people to understand it is a privilege to live in the United States and to have these rights,” he said.