Thursday, April 05, 2007

Free Speech Closes Early At BYU

Bryan Young and Steven Greenstreet
Free Speech Closes Early At BYU

The campus of Brigham Young University was electric with controversy today as it was the site of two protests surrounding Dick Cheney's upcoming visit to speak at their commencement ceremony.

On one end of campus were the "anti-Cheney" demonstrators sponsored by the BYU Democrats. Between 100 and 200 strong at any given time, students and faculty members raised signs displaying their distaste for the policies espoused by Dick Cheney such as war profiteering, torture, preemptive war, lying, using the "f-word", lying, etc.

BYU had "given them permission" to voice their opinions. Well, not really "voice" their opinions, BYU said they could sit down on some side walks and hold up signs, just not shout chants or yell anything. And they only had until 1:00pm to do it. Having received permission to protest, the ecstatic students remained peaceful and sat inside BYU's designated "free speech" zone in the middle of campus. Over the entire three hour demonstration it was estimated that 700-800 faculty and students were able to participate.

In the mix was an assortment of students and familiar faces. Steven Jones, the physics professor at BYU who retired amid controversy about his research into the 9/11 attacks, was on hand and spoke to us about his distaste with the Bush administration. Joe Vogel, who was once the Student Body Vice President at Utah Valley State College (UVSC) in 2004 when he invited Michael Moore to speak and was then forced to resign over the ensuing controversy, was there to register his dissenting voice in the growing cacophony of protest. Joe is now a masters student at BYU and part of the faculty.

On the other end of campus were the "pro-BYU" demonstrators sponsored by the College Republicans. Between 15 and 30 strong, students and faculty members passed out free cookies, lemonade and cake and played football, all in support of BYU's decision to bring Dick Cheney to campus. They remained peaceful and had a good time eating cake.

The protests seem to go off without a hitch until things started winding down. NPR left. The local TV news cameras left. The newspaper reporters packed their things and left. And the only people around to document anything were students and our film crew. Our cameras kept rolling to witness what happened next.

As soon as 1:00 hit and the time for free speech expired, after an impromptu performance of the Star Spangled Banner by the BYU Democrats, men from BYU dressed in suits and sunglasses with Secret Service-style earpieces roughly rounded up all of the signage and banners. "You'll be able to use it all again. We're just going to keep it for you. So you don't carry it around campus, we'll take it to a safe place until the next designated protest."

It was like Daddy deciding that the kids had had enough play time and was taking their toys away.

Students we spoke to, on camera, were understandably livid. "I'm a student, but I'm not with the Democrats and that sign is my personal property," a disconcerted student told us, "What they're saying is they don't want any disruptions on campus and 'free speech time' is over until they say so."

And then the real debates began. Students and faculty on both sides of the issue met face to face and things began to get heated and that is when we felt taps on our shoulders.

It turns out, as it was explained to me, that documentarians, according to BYU, are not legitimate journalists. Because we wish to show the news we have to report on a theatre screen or a DVD, our aims don't actually count as news.

We rolled a lot of footage at today's events. Hours and hours of footage. Hopefully, we're making a follow-up documentary to This Divided State. But, if BYU has anything to do with it, you won't be able to see it. Free speech at BYU is open for business. But only from 11:00am til 1:00pm, two days only.

As usual, we'll be following everything on our blog and we're going to try to get some footage of this up as a taste of what's to come soon.