‘Free Speech Ball’ bounces into UC Berkeley to raise awareness about First Amendment

Deborah Chen/Staff

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The Young Americans for Liberty, or YAL, rolled a “Free Speech Ball” around Sproul Plaza on Friday in an effort to draw attention to the limits of free speech at UC Berkeley.

YAL is a nonpartisan libertarian club, according to UC Berkeley YAL chapter president and campus student Khader Kakish. The Free Speech Ball, a large beach ball that students could write on, is a tradition among YAL chapters on other campuses. Approximately 100 students gathered and were encouraged to write anything they wanted on the ball as long as they were not hurting people. Several students said they thought it was a good idea.

“I think it’s a really awesome way of welcoming free speech and encouraging it in a fun way,” said campus sophomore Azi Gomroki at the event.

Statements on the ball ranged from charged political opinions to Instagram handles, and they also included statements in different languages and illustrations. Students were encouraged to sign a petition to abolish campus “free speech zones,” which are public areas set aside specifically for political protesting, and YAL members handed out pocket-size Constitutions as students wrote on the ball.

Kakish said his chapter took the ball around campus to show that free speech is a widespread concern.

“Free speech is not a right-wing or left-wing issue — it’s an everyone issue,” Kakish said during the event. “(The) way to move forward is not to shut someone down. … We believe (the) way to go about it is actually talking about ideas.”

Being shut down is an obstacle YAL is facing now, according to Kakish. Kakish alleged that the LEAD Center, with which all student organizations must register, has refused to recognize YAL because of its similarity to the Cal Libertarians, a student organization dedicated to promoting libertarian ideas.

According to Kakish, the LEAD Center’s alleged refusal to recognize the YAL chapter on campus has restricted the group’s ability to rent tables and flyer on Sproul.

Campus officials, Kakish alleged, are robbing YAL of a voice despite the fact that it is already active and present on campus. He expressed concerns that the group’s activities would be forced off campus if the club is not officially recognized.

Alexander Staudt, YAL’s free speech director, said the event was separate from the campus’s now-canceled “Free Speech Week,” but he did address the administration’s choices regarding free speech on campus. According to Staudt, speech should not be regulated to certain areas of the university.

“This idea that the campus administration believes it has the audacity to legislate above and beyond the First Amendment to the Constitution is ludicrous,” Staudt said in an email. “This is a public university. America is a free speech zone.”

Campus alumnus Mark Homrighausen, who stopped to observe others writing on the ball, stressed the importance of responsible free speech and using it to share ideas instead of inciting violence. He said recent events related to Free Speech Week have motivated him to carry around the Bill of Rights and the Constitution.

Nathan Fatal, west regional director of YAL, also attended the event. Fatal said people on campus seemed surprised that their free speech “has been limited,” and he added that support for the ball has been overwhelming.

“This shows people that free speech is something everyone can and should enjoy regardless of their background and what people study, regardless of political involvement or noninvolvement,” Fatal said. “This brought a lot of people together.”

Contact Elena Aguirre at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @eaguirreDC.

A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that students were encouraged to sign a petition to increase campus policing of “free speech zones.” In fact, the petition was to abolish the zones altogether.