Farewell First Amendment, hello pizza!

“Without Freedom of Speech I Have No Voice”

Monday was the 12th annual First Amendment Free* Food Festival at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville. As in previous years, students had to sign away their First Amendment rights in order to receive free pizza and soda on the patio outside Dunham Hall. Once they do, they get a little reminder of what life is like without a First Amendment, as their papers are confiscated and they are ordered to stop reading books and talk about only the topics that are approved by administration.

This year, SPJ president Elizabeth Donald snuck in some flyers on reading banned books and passed them out while being chased by the goon squad (comprised of the staff of the Alestle). Other volunteers stood outside the perimeter and exhorted the students to join the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, but were chased away because such freedom of religion is not permitted. Other subversives passed out copies of the Alestle’s special edition on the First Amendment, which were summarily confiscated (and then snuck back out again).

It’s all in good fun, but it is also a reminder to young people how much they rely on the First Amendment, even if they’re not aware of it. Program coordinator Tammy Merrett reports that 114 signed up to give away their rights, though several more declined to sign once they heard the terms. They ran out of pizza by the 90-minute mark, which is the fastest they’ve ever run out in the 12 years the program has been running. 

The First Amendment Free* Food Festival serves as the opening event for SIUE’s Mass Comm Week, a series of events and lectures celebrating all things media related. Speakers included St. Louis SPJ President Elizabeth Donald on ethics, the Post-Dispatch’s David Carson on “Ferguson: Birth of a New Era of Social Activism”; Shahidul Alam on “Speaking Truth to Power” and others, including a panel of alumni. The program will finish with an alumni dinner on Friday at the university center. 

St. Louis SPJ is a proud co-sponsor of the First Amendment Free* Food Festival.