And far from trying to take it back, Gingrich proudly reproduced on his own Web site a story from the Manchester Union Leader reporting his remarks — right down to the headline, GINGRICH RAISES ALARM AT EVENT HONORING THOSE WHO STAND UP FOR FREEDOM OF SPEECH. (The Nackey S. Loeb School of Communications, which sponsored the dinner, is principal owner of the Union Leader.)

Keith Olbermann, on his MSNBC program, Countdown, reacted thusly: “If you’re going to destroy freedom of speech, bub, you’ve already lost all the cities. To paraphrase Pastor Martin Niemöller’s poem about Germany in the ’30s and ’40s: First they came for the Fourth Amendment, then they came for habeas corpus, then they came for free speech, and there was no one allowed to speak up.”

But the last word goes to Olbermann’s guest, George Washington University law professor Jonathan Turley, who said, “I mean, it’s bizarre it would occur in a First Amendment speech. God knows what he’d say at a Mother’s Day speech.”

John Nazarian
Rhode Island College leader removes pro-choice signs

What was Rhode Island College president John Nazarian thinking?

In December 2005, the Women’s Studies Organization at the college posted several signs in support of reproductive freedom — including, most notably, KEEP YOUR ROSARIES OFF OUR OVARIES. A priest reportedly noticed the signs while traveling to Nazarian’s home to celebrate mass, and mentioned them during the service. Nazarian responded by ordering that the signs be taken down, claiming that the women had not followed the proper approval process.

This past December, the Rhode Island ACLU filed suit in federal court, claiming the women’s First Amendment rights had been abridged. Now, of course, it’s true that people can’t go around putting up signs anywhere they please. But according to the ACLU, the place where the Women’s Studies Organization had posted its signs — the entrance to the campus — has been the scene of numerous temporary signs, including some put up by the college itself.

Rhode Island College is a public, taxpayer-funded institution, which makes Nazarian’s act of censorship that much worse. “A public university can’t abridge anyone’s free-speech rights, including [those of] students,” says Jennifer Azevedo, a volunteer lawyer with the ACLU.

The mystery is why Nazarian believed he needed to do anything. A demonstration of pro-choice sentiment at a college in the liberal Northeast is hardly the stuff of controversy. In fact, it’s difficult to believe that even the priest who mentioned it to Nazarian was offended, no matter how strongly he may have disagreed with the message. If Nazarian had just waited a few days, the signs would have been gone and forgotten.

Instead, he reacted with a blatant act of censorship — and, according to the ACLU, compounded it by attempting to assert at one point that the students had no First Amendment claims against him because he’s not a government employee.

“College is a place for the free expression of ideas,” says Nichole Aguiar, president of the Women’s Studies Organization. “[Rhode Island College] has denied our organization those rights and we have decided to take action to ensure that RIC is a better place for all students.”

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