Freedom of speech dispute continues

Police arrested a Student Government senator July 31 on charges of disorderly conduct while a university administrator tore down signs that he had placed in the area, according to the police report.

Sen. Dennis Chaney Jr. attended Northern Exposure, one of seven freshman orientation session, as a representative of Students for Change, a group that he described as “about saving lives, be they victims of war via imperialism or saving lives from public health policy driven by social conservatives which endangers students.”

According to the police report, while there, Chaney had hung up several signs around his table, including one that read “bombing for peace is like f***ing for virginity,” and was distributing condoms.

It was then that Amy Arbino-Wylie, Northern Kentucky University’s assistant dean of students of New Student Orientation and Parent Programs, said that she approached him and asked him not to pass out condoms per the Student Orientation guidelines.

According to a memo from Holly Caudill-Grote, coordinator of NSO, no handouts or giveaways were permitted if they “include alcohol/drug/sexual innuendo.” The memo also stated that any groups violating the guidelines would receive one warning and then be asked to leave.

Adam Kissel, the Director of the Individual Rights Defense Program at the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, said that distributing condoms was “constitutionally protected speech.”

“There’s no reasonable reason to restrict sexual innuendo for prospective adult students,” Kissel said. “The (U.S.) Constitution is in force for him.”

Wylie said she asked the former student to leave, and then left the table – and returned with two police officers. According to the report, the former student had already left.

Wylie said that she then asked Chaney to leave.

“The reason I asked him to leave is cause he continued to argue with me,” she said. “It was disrupting the program.”

According to the police report, Wylie then began to remove the signs. After giving officers his identification, the senator “approached a table and began to shout in an attempt to entice the crowd and Ms. Wylie attempted to remove other signs,” the report continued.

“I told her ‘I’m not doing anything wrong,'” he said.

The report states that he also began “yelling that the police hated students and were violating his right to free speech and disseminate condoms.”

The crowd then began to rush the table, according to authorities, in response to him.

Chaney, however, disputes that the students were unruly and denies saying that police hate students. He does acknowledge, however, that he did say the other statements.

“I was announcing to the students ‘I’m being arrested for handing out free condoms. Where’s my free speech?'” he said. “This is how NKU treats students.”

Officers asked him to quietly step away from the table “so that the matter and method of his leaving campus could be discussed further,” according to the report, and Chaney allegedly refused to comply.

It was then, the report states, that officers arrested him. It also states that Chaney allegedly said “he was glad to be arrested because it would bring publicity to further his cause.”

Wylie then removed all the signs, according to the report, and police seized his bicycle “for safe keeping.”

Removing the signs, however, is a murky issue, Kissel pointed out.

“It’s like a job fair, you’re not allowed to go up and put posters all over the wall,” he said, adding that expanding beyond the space that is evenly allotted to all student groups is not protected.

Chaney said that he had six signs in the ground behind him, and several other signs posted around him.

Kissell added that the time of the arrest is not the appropriate time to challenge administrators’ decisions.

“Often, at most universities, there’s a rule in the code of student conduct, you have to obey the orders of administrators,” he said. “You’re just making it worse for yourself by resisting.”

NKU’s Code of Students’ Rights and Responsibilities states on page eight that “students are required to comply with the directives of university officials in the performance of their duties.”

Chaney said he accepted Diversion, a process where after individuals meet requirements set by a diversion officer their charges are dismissed, because he couldn’t afford to fight the decision or post bail. Also, because the charges would be dismissed, he said, it seemed like the best option.

FIRE gives NKU a “red-light” rating, the worst possible one. The rating can be viewed by clicking here.