Thomas Tullis just wanted to organize a poker game for his Young Americans for Liberty chapter at the University of Oregon. He filled out all the campus bureaucracy forms, requested money from the student senate to cover reservation fees, and started advertising the event.
There was just one problem: a local gun shop donated firearms to reward the winners, and Second Amendment rights aren’t welcome on America’s college campuses.
Despite the fact that Thomas’ YAL chapter threw the exact same event last year with no problems, OU’s administration and student senate went out of their way to try to stop the game. First, the University Housing office told Thomas he couldn’t post fliers because the prize “violated the student conduct code.” Winning a gun is not illegal in the State of Oregon.
Then the student senate rejected Thomas’ request for $950 to reserve the ballroom and buy pizza for attendees. Since the prizes were donated, not one cent of student money would have gone to gun manufacturers. Furthermore, the firearms were not going to be physically at the event.
Nevertheless, several student senators claimed their mere association with the tournament created an “unsafe space” on campus. The student senate president, Helena Schlegel, agreed but for a totally different (and more bizarre) reason:
This is an unsafe space because there are people who are addicted to gambling who would not be able to attend. Gambling addiction negatively affects marginalized communities.
While many student leaders would give up in the face of such systematic adversity, Thomas knows his rights.
Students for Liberty President Alexander McCobin quickly agreed to pay the tab that the student senate refused to cover, so the event will go on. Furthermore, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) wrote a letter to OU today precisely outlining all the unconstitutional actions the administration and student senate have taken against Thomas’ club.
There’s a light at the end of the tunnel for First (and Second) Amendment rights at OU, but it’s undoubtedly going to be a difficult fight. Thomas tells me there are already whispers of the event being protested — a legal use of free speech, for sure, but with an illiberal call for censorship.
The last few weeks have turned national attention to controversies at Yale and Mizzou, but we must remember the free speech crisis on America’s college campuses is not limited to one or two instances. It’s universal, and students like Thomas are its victims.