Dayton Rally: Put Down Your Signs UPDATED
Campus police at Dayton’s Stand Up for Religious Freedom Rally Friday seem to have violated one clause of the First Amendment while protesters were rallying about another.
After the rally at Sinclair College began, campus police told the approximately 400 attendees they had to put their signs on the ground. Nothing like it happened at any of the other 160-some noon rallies at cities around the country.
Bryan Kemper, one of the rally’s speakers, says he’s never seen anything like it. Now Youth Outreach Coordinator for Priests for Life, Kemper has had a long career in pro-life work with teens and young adults. The founder both Rock for Life and StandTrue Pro-life Outreach, he has spoken at rallies and events around the country for more than a decade. “This is a first,” he says.
Fr. Kyle Schnippel, Vocations Director for the Archdiocese of Cincinnati, opened the rally, which included numerous short talks. After the second talk, he says, “the MC was interrupted, an organizer came over and told us we had to lower our signs.
“It was odd for all of us who where there,” he says. “There was even a banner 10 to 12 feet across they had to take down. I’ve never heard of anything like this.”
Fr. Schnippel said the speakers were told the sign ban had something to do with complaints from members of a homosexual organization at the school. Ruth Deddens, the rally captain, said the student sponsors of the group, the Traditional Values Club, had received emails that bothered them two days before the rally. The Dayton Daily News cited previous friction between the TV Club and the BriTe SiGnaL Alliance, a group for gay students.
Even if campus police were concerned about possible problems, says Peter Breen, Executive Director of the Chicago-based Thomas More Society, asking people at a protest to put down their signs is a violation of the First Amendment.
“It’s blatantly unconstitutional,” says Breen, whose organization worked with all 160-odd rally captains to secure the correct permits for the nation-wide rallies. “You’ve never seen it before, because we live in the United States of America,” where signs at a protest are considered to be part of free speech. “If the intent of making them putting the signs down was to silence the message, then was viewpoint-specific. And you cannot do that.”
There are conflicting reports about whether the signs had to be face down or merely had to be placed on the ground, but all the people contacted for this story agree that messages could not be visible. “There was someone near me with a sign leaned against a tree,” one attendee said. “The policeman came over and said signs had to be flat on the ground.”
According to several reports, Sinclair College has a history of claiming the right to allow campus police to ban signs at protests dating back to at least 1990, and does not allow leaflets or pamphlets to be distributed at such events. Both are protected by the Free Speech clause of the First Amendement. The published information about use of campus facilities explains the policy about distributing literature but does not mention signs. “I did not know” anything about sign restrictions, Deddens says. “I provided 100 signs. We had a banner made.”
The college told the Dayton Daily News its sign policy is being reviewed. Kemper, who gave away pro-life stickers on the sidewalk because of Sinclair’s restrictions, says the school’s actions “will not go unchallenged.” And the students whose complaints were said to have started the campus police’s intervention? “I started my talk saying that I didn’t agree with them, but I would fight for their right to carry signs. I would fight for any group’s right to carry signs.”
Click here for Bryan Kemper’s blog post on the rally, including videos of a discussion with campus police and his rally speech.
The story has been updated to include a more accurate attendee count.