Downtown students sign away their First Amendment rights in SPJ demonstration

XXX. (Kim Olson/DD)
Students who signed away their First Amendment rights for two slices of pizza were yelled at, asked to see their identification and had their clothes censored with tape. (Kim Olson/DD)

More than 160 ASU students gave up their First Amendment rights for two slices of pizza at the Downtown Phoenix campus Monday morning.

Students often take their First Amendment rights for granted, said journalism senior Anne Stegen, president of the Society of Professional Journalists ASU Chapter. The chapter hosted the First Amendment Free Food Festival at Taylor Mall.

Stegen said the club wanted to put things in perspective for people and help them appreciate and defend their right to speak out, cover stories, assemble, petition and express themselves in whatever way they choose.

Participating students signed a sheet saying they temporarily forfeited their right to the First Amendment while in SPJ’s imaginary country, the Kingdom of the Socialist States of the People’s Republic.

After being given a passport to the fake country, they were instantly censored by those working at the tent.

Before getting their pizza, students’ possessions, including shirts, backpacks, hats, socks and even computers, were evaluated for logos. Any messages that were not condoned by the state were covered up with tape. Volunteers would ask to see students’ passports or photo identification.

As they got their pizza, students were harassed. Some people were yelled at for talking, standing by their friends or complaining about the quality of their food.

“As soon as I got the pizza, I disbanded from the country,” said Clay Pennington, a 22-year-old health sciences student. Pennington had his pizza slice taken from him, was ordered to change his clothes and was not allowed to talk to anyone.

It was very eye-opening to see how people reacted when they were told not to talk, when logos on their clothes were covered or when they were asked for their passports, Stegen said.

Exercise and wellness student Jason Davis, 28, said he had his pizza taken from him because he took three slices instead of two, breaking a clear “law” of the country.

Not everyone was willing to participate in the event, though.

“About two dozen people looked at the form, looked at the conditions for free pizza and decided not to participate,” Stegen said. “They were participating, because they were made to think about the First Amendment and they made a choice to not give up those rights.”

Monique Rollins, a 20-year-old exercise and wellness student, said she feared she may have signed her rights away for real.

“Don’t sign a petition and not read the fine print,” Rollins said, warning others away of her mistake.

Stegen reassured the students, explaining that the action was only symbolic. She said you can’t really have your rights taken away from you in the United States, but that kind of harassment is very real in other places.

The club wanted to show students how the ability to use cell phones and have access to information is very important and should not be taken for granted, Stegen said.

After being interrogated for talking with her friends, Rollins said people really do take their right to freedom of speech for granted.

“For the people who did not want to give up their rights for pizza, I hope they take away a continued awareness for all that they have and all that they can express with their rights,” Stegen said. “To the people that did just want the pizza: I hope that they learned something about how the First Amendment is interpreted in the United States and how it applies to every aspect of life.”

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Correction: April 30, 2013

A previous version of this article incorrectly stated Jason Davis’s age.