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Free Speech Center at MTSU

Articles, news and insights about free expression in America

Austin Peay State University

Austin Peay State University students in Clarksville, Tenn., had a choice to make on Constitution Day, Sept. 17, 2019: Eat free or live free. The choice pitted free food against First Amendment rights.

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Photo by The All State

The choice happened from 11 a.m.-1 p.m. in the Morgan University Center Plaza, where students 276 participants chose to enter the “People’s Republic of Clarksville” and experienced preplanned events demonstrating what life might be like without First Amendment protections.

All the rules of the fake country were enforced by student actors from APSU Wesley Foundation,  The All State campus newspaper, Military Student Center and Governor’s Programming Council. When students asked for a specific type of chip, they did not receive what they ordered. When they came in with a group of friends, they were not allowed to sit together. All logos were covered with tape on their T-shirts, backpacks and even flip-flops. All complaints were directed to an empty table where no one was there to hear their concerns.

Throughout the event, citizens were encouraged to participate in protests and petitions, and also in the distribution of religious materials. Then participants faced consequences from the government for being involved in illegal activities. Some people who signed petitions were called out by microphone to the front of the crowd to answer for breaking the law. Religious materials were confiscated with newspapers. Students were required to stay a minimum of 15 minutes in the event to receive this year’s T-shirt.

The color of the T-shirt was based on the school colors of APSU, which are red, black and white. This year the T-shirt was red with white lettering listing all five of the First Amendment rights. (Red was selected because of the low number of red T-shirts being created and handed out by departments at the beginning of the semester.)

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Photo by The All State

This year more classes from the departments of communication, philosophy, political science and APSU 1000 participated than last year. When the event opened, at least 50 participants were already lined up. APSU Public Relations and Marketing contributed this year by sending out a media advisory to Nashville-area media. This generated almost 400,000 external media-audience reach on the Constitution Day story (with high participations from local media and the social media tied to their brands). They reach 150,000-250,000 readers on a typical story. Even though no media covered the event, it was a big hit for them and they want to do it again next year.

The event was sponsored by the departments of Student Publications, Student Life & Engagement and The All State.

More photos from APSU Public Relations and Marketing

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