The Lory Student Center Plaza has traditionally been a place where free expression of opinion is welcomed. But there is such a thing as going too far said Capt. Bob Chaffee of the CSU Police Department.
“None of our constitutional rights are absolute rights,” Chaffee said. “We can’t run into the student center and yell ‘fire.'”
Chaffee said the police look at the time, place and manner of the situation when deciding if it is constitutionally protected.
He described unprotected activity as “anything that becomes disorderly or menacing under Colorado laws.”
He also explained how protected speech could turn into unprotected speech.
“Religious groups that don’t like homosexuals can say things like, ‘We hate fags,’ but once they get in their faces and say it, that’s close to menacing,” Chaffee said.
Chaffee said the CSUPD has had to stop a couple of speeches in the past few years due to potential violence. These problems do not change Chaffee’s positive view of the Plaza.
“The idea of having a place to express our opinions is supportive of the nature of the university. Sometimes it’s just a little challenging for us,” he said.
Dan Lyons is a familiar face on the Plaza. He comes to campus often to distribute flyers about his opinions on subjects like the war in Iraq. His definition of unprotected speech is similar to Chaffee’s.
“If someone was preaching to kill some group, that’s inciting a riot,” Lyons said. “Short of that, the First Amendment doesn’t restrict much. You can incite hate and get away with it, and that’s bad. You’re protected as long as you don’t incite violence.”
He said he has not had any problems with the police while on the Plaza, but he was almost arrested for leaving flyers in buildings. Lyons, who has been distributing flyers on the Plaza for at least two years, said he has not witnessed very many problems with other speakers in his time there.
“It’s a very tame campus. Nobody goes too far, nobody goes far enough. If someone pushed a really extreme thing, nobody would listen. Except for religion,” Lyons said. He said he has heard religious speakers making outrageous claims, but they have big crowds gathered around them.
Although Lyons is a big advocate of free speech, there are still certain things he does not like to hear people say.
“Anything that pushes hate. The U.S. has made enormous improvements in tolerance. Racial tolerance and tolerance against gays has improved greatly over the last few years. I would hate to see that reversed,” Lyons said.
Abby Jandro, a senior psychology major, said she does not always agree with some of the messages, but she sees the importance of being able to express opinions on the Plaza.
“College is supposed to be an atmosphere where you can be introduced to many ideas. You definitely have the choice to stay and listen or not, and to agree or disagree,” Jandro said.
Jandro thinks that even controversial or offensive opinions have their benefits.
“I think people should be offended sometimes. Even though I find some of the messages offensive, they promote discussion,” Jandros said. She mentioned the Justice For All large billboards with pictures of abortions as one display that has offended her.
Dan Lyons plans to use the Plaza as his forum for spreading his thoughts to CSU students as long as he is protected by the Constitution.
“There is a minority out there who cares and listens,” Lyons said. “That’s why I keep at it.”