Updated April 6, 2013
The First Amendment / Congress Shall Make No Law sculpture takes up a northwest corner of the Culture & Society Building on Florida Atlantic University’s Boca Raton campus overlooking the Free Speech Mall. The artwork reminds the FAU community of the relatedness of free speech and association to a free society. The Culture & Society Building is home to the Departments of English, Languages and Linguistics, and Sociology, the School of Communication and Multimedia Studies, and the Living Room Theater complex.
The First Amendment is the creation of Ryon Rich, a Florida Atlantic graduate who holds a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree and is now pursuing a graduate degree in architecture. Rich divides his time between his foundry in Santa Fe, New Mexico and FAU.
The idea behind The First Amendment came from FAU journalism professor Bob Bailyn and marks a conceptual collaboration between Rich and Bailyn.
While the First Amendment restrains the federal government from inhibiting free speech and association, the Fourteenth Amendment extends the First Amendment’s guarantees to all of the states. The Florida Constitution further declares: “Every person may speak, write and publish sentiments on all subjects but shall be responsible for the abuse of that right. No law shall be passed to restrain or abridge the liberty of speech or of the press.” Intellectuals have an inherent responsibility to publicly address issues of significant public concern.
The First Amendment sculpture’s spirit and presence at FAU is contradicted by the university administration’s recent attempts to coerce faculty and students from publicly addressing controversial subject matter of tremendous public interest and concern.
In March a classroom incident involving an African American faculty member received extensive press coverage and prompted a violent public backlash with clear racial undertones. Administrators failed to defend the professor and instead instituted a gag order preventing him from publicly commenting on the misunderstood event. FAU has one of the largest African American and Hispanic student enrollments and alumni bases in the United States. The educator was relieved of his teaching duties and placed on administrative leave against his wishes.
In January FAU administrators sought to intimidate a professor from publicly addressing inconsistencies in the official investigation and journalistic reportage of the December 14 Sandy Hook School shooting in Newtown Connecticut. The administration is now taking formal disciplinary action against that faculty member.
The American Civil Liberties Union is now defending FAU students who face disciplinary measures from administrators related to an incident involving a student protest of FAU’s then-pending affiliation with private prison transnational GEO Group. After a March 22 event on FAU’s Jupiter campus one of the protesting students sustained minor injuries after FAU President Mary Jane Saunders struck the student with her Lexus sedan and fled the scene. ACLU attorney Julie Evenstein contends the students are being unreasonably attacked because they went through the proper procedure of reporting the incident to campus police. “It has a chilling effect on speech and provides a disincentive for students to file a police report when they believe they’ve been a victim of administrators’ conduct,” Evenstein said.
Photos by James F. Tracy