A lesson in Freedom of Speech at Middle Tennessee State University

The First Amendment to the United States Constitution is a simple sentence and reads as follows:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

That amendment and great document affords Americans like me and members of Middle Tennessee State University’s Lambda Association the right to celebrate the group’s 25 years of service to the University’s vision to create “a vibrant hub for educating accomplished students who are civically engaged and globally responsible citizens.” The group created the display pictured above that you can now see at MTSU’s Library.

I was honored and deeply touched recently when MT Lambda President Joshua Rigsby reached out to me as an alum and asked me to be a part of this powerful display. I provided a wealth of personal papers highlighting our work in the 1990s to ensure fairness and equality on campus that is now part of the display as well as a part of campus policy.

But a former Navy Information Operations Command Officer Olimpia Herlo wasn’t about to let that happen and fired off a disgraceful letter encouraging the campus to violate the United States Constitution. She simply didn’t like the use of the American rainbow flag.

“We ‘keep the watch’ so that our fellow Americans may enjoy liberty and the freedoms guaranteed by the United States Constitution. We sacrifice birthdays, anniversaries, being able to be with our loved ones in times of tragedy and times of joy. We stand duty when most of America is sleeping. We believe in the honorable presentation of the United States flag to families of those we lose while keeping the watch. Please remove this public disgrace from your institution at once!. Please (issue) a public apology for your blatant disrespect and lawlessness!”

Herlo has a right to chose how to use her First Amendment right, but Herlo demands a state run school violate the same Constitution she swore an oath to uphold in her service to our country. Her choice says a lot about her, and indicates she will never have the courage to come to MTSU and take the flag down herself. She is nothing like the great men and women I know currently serving our country.

One person who did go that far is MTSU student and Sigma Pi Vice President Jacob Lisemby who was charged with theft for stealing a flag from the display. Unfortunately, Lisemby chose to commit a crime instead of using his voice, violating his fraternal creed and embarrassing a great number of upstanding members of Sigma Pi and Sigma Pi International in the process. Never mind the embarrassment he has surely caused his self described “Rock-ribbed conservative” missionary family for showing not only anti-American values, but anti-Christian values (“Thou shall not steal?”).

In a passage from Christian Ministries To Israel Director Reginald Lisemby (Jacob’s father) titled “Is God For The USA?,” Lisemby concludes that “God is not on our side” despite “flags flying everywhere.” Lisemby specifically blames “homosexuals”, “free speech” and thieving leaders who “get caught and yet dismissed because of power” among other things.

These people are certainly entitled to their opinions.

While we’re on the lesson of Freedom of Speech, I got a phone call from MTSU Sigma Pi President Buddy Renner upset about me sharing this story on Twitter. He could have been upset at all the news agencies for reporting Lisemby’s crime, or even at Lisemby himself. Instead, he chose to exercise his freedom to call me and diminish the nature of his “brother’s” poor choice.

In Russia, there’s a law that puts people in prison for simply displaying in public the very rainbow flag that was stolen from our display. This ain’t Russia, and I am forever grateful for the opportunities the First Amendment provides us to compare and contrast those who like America like it is and those who want it to be just like Russia.

UPDATE 10-10-13 Responses: Some of Jacob’s fraternal brothers and sorority friends aren’t happy with this post at all and took to Twitter last night encouraging others to harass me. Kelci Biggs tweeted threats that she was calling the police for “harassment” but has since deleted the comment when she realized just how stupid she made her sorority look. Some encouraged arson. Others cheered on Jacob. Here are some of the ways people have chosen to use their freedom of speech:

  • Kelly Oberg (@kohhhberg) – Alpha Chi Omega: I support Jacob 100% and I have his back no matter what. (5:48pm Oct. 9)
  • Kelci Biggs (@kelcibiggs) – Alpha Delta Pi: I completely stand behind @kohhhberg and Jacob in this. (5:06pm Oct 9)
  • Weslea Miniat (@wesleasnipes) – Alpha Chi Omega: Love you Jacob! Eff those haters! These colors don’t run! (4:07pm Oct. 9)
  • Mikie Adams (@FRATAMS) – that’s cute. I hope that flag gets burned asap. (5:53pm Oct 9)
  • Luke Hayes (@LukeHayes_ATH) – former MTSU Football bench warmer: Jacob is a hero in my book. (4:31pm Oct 9)
  • Brooklyn Chunn ‏(@BrooklynChunn) – Alpha Chi Omega: All I know is that flag in the library should be taken down (1:59pm Oct. 9)
  1. KC
    October 10th, 2013 at 10:14 | #1

    At the beginning of your response to the previous article you state that these individuals “took to twitter encouraging others to harass you.” However, not one of the tweets you posted says anything about you, nor do they incite harassment in any shape or form towards you or your group of homosexual friends. Everyone is free to their own opinions and twitter is a place that we are free to publish them. When your group decided to hang a controversial flag in the middle of the library on a campus of more than 30,000 students in which the majority of indivuals are straight, you asked for this type of response. If you did not see this coming then you are not just gay, you are stupid. You cannot sit here and act like this isn’t the response you were hoping for.

    When this flag was hung you acted just like Kelley, Kelci, Weslea, Mickie, Luke and Brooklyn. You stood up for those that you associate yourself with and stood behind them for what you believe to be right. These individuals did nothing different. You posted this article in support of the flag, they posted tweets in the support of their Brother and friend.

    In the great state of Tennessee homosexuality is NOT a protected class. If you are too sensitive for this type of “discrimination” then move. However, if you choose to stay here, it’s not discriminatory under Tn state law for me to call you gay or to post on twitter how ugly your ridiculous rainbow flag is, and how embarrassing it is for this university to have allowed it to hang in the middle of the library as if to say we all agree with your choices.

    There is absolutely not reason for gay, bisexual, transgender or lesbians to make a flag displaying their sexual preferences. You are not a race fighting for freedom and there is not reason that all of MTSU needs to know that you like it up the ass. You don’t see me running around campus with a straight flag and letting people know that I do like to have sex normally in case they were curious. No! Wanna know why? Because no one cares! It’s a personal matter that you need to keep between you and your man.

    You choose to have sex differently than the way God intended and the way out bodies are biologically designed. Because of your CHOICE to behave that way, this is the response you will always receive.There are sacrifices for taking the road less traveled and you have to accept that if you want to continue taking it up the butt.

    No one harassed you. No one harmed you or your gay friends in any shape or form. People stand behind their friends and if you want to write a nice lengthy article about me go right ahead because I refuse to sit in silence while you make a disgrace of the Greek community and this university as a whole.

  2. Christian Grantham
    October 10th, 2013 at 10:50 | #2

    KC, I didn’t share every tweet, especially the ones directed at me because this post is about the First Amendment and how some MTSU students have chosen to use that right in response to the display and Lisemby’s choice to steal a part of it.

    You are correct. Everyone has a right to make their opinions as public as they want, and I want to thank you for adding yours to the mix, as deplorable as it is. No one has a right to deny that protected right to others through criminal behavior that breaks fraternal creed, campus policy and the laws of this great nation. Have a great day!

  3. BA
    October 10th, 2013 at 13:02 | #3

    Mr. Grantman, as I do not support the harsh, or perceived aggressive comments made via twitter yesterday and today I feel it necessary to inform your readers of this blog the type of twitter “janitor..floor cleaning” tactics of debate you give. The responders to your initial comments do not understand that this is a very personal topic that you have devoted many years working towards, so quietly trolling, awaiting for these unthought out comments to later post on your blog and subtweet to Mtsu Greek Life or Sigma Pi nationals is the first line of defense in your diplomatic arsenal out of personal anger. You are in a position as COO of short mountain distillery and proprietor of your own farm that you can be as vocal and manipulative as possible without creating self inflicting wounds. Others do not have that option, and if they wish to honestly converse why this flag should or should not be raised at a state institution that should show absolutely no bias towards any sex, religion, or ethnicity you would research their personal affiliations and portray them to your many followers as enemies ad suppressor of gay rights. I myself fall in line with this majority (Conservative, Caucasian, Christian, male), so therefore my debate is crippled in the aspect, regardless of my friends or family who share your same views, we have to remain silent to prevent being known as “homosexual public enemies”. Negate the fact that Mtsu lambda and the offender have both met and allowed for appropriate apologies, or the fact that the argument of “desecration” of the flag (misdemeanor in itself) could be argued as well. No local jurisdiction would argue this out of fear as being known as a gay oppressive city awaiting legal repercussions from the ACLU. Nevertheless, this debate will continue to ring out over many other venues, with it being so strong in personal beliefs on both ends. I urge the readers of this article to explore all ramifications prior to squaring off with you Mr. Grantman with the understanding there will be no resolution. Which is why this country is great….

  4. Christian
    October 10th, 2013 at 13:44 | #4

    It’s Grantham, and I’m not exactly sure what you are meaning, but I do sense some desire for understanding. I hope I’m creating room for that here, and I have spoken with folks who truly seek that in this opportunity. But, as you can see there are a lot of folks who don’t want that, and they have every right to say what they want. I think the contrast here with a group celebrating the University’s mission and those who resort to criminal behavior and acting out in violation of fraternal creed is important. The contrast alone opens up the space in between where we leave these ridiculous people to themselves. Is that what you mean here? Sorry. It was just hard to follow. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

  5. John
    October 12th, 2013 at 06:14 | #5


    The rainbow flag represents a community of men and women who are attracted to people of the same sex. The flag is there because we have been murdered, raped, toured, abandoned by our families, told we are mentally ill, blamed for tsunamis, told we are going to hell, told our love is unequal to others, fired from out jobs…..the list goes on. The point of our communities’ symbol is to give identity to a group. I can assure you the flag doesn’t mean butt sex, the last thing on my mind is sex when I see a rainbow flag. I think about the rainbow magnetic my dad had in his truck from Hawaii or gay pride floats with guys in big feathered head dresses. I have to say we both have a rather poor impression of this flag. It has been flown at our struggles, during our grief, during times of celebration and it is a promise of hope for those without.

  6. Daniel Williams of Sacramento, CA
    October 15th, 2013 at 17:30 | #6

    @KC All this, yet you remain anonymous. Way to stand behind your convictions. Also, you’re a bigot and a moron. Have a nice day.

  7. Lauren
    December 8th, 2013 at 17:42 | #7

    I am curious about Jacob Lisemby’s motivations to steal the flag….any idea?

    Also,notice how many are using their freedom of speech to anonymously post their beliefs! Not so proud? Scared? Ashamed subconsciously?

  8. MTSU Alum
    February 19th, 2014 at 15:00 | #8

    Just came across this post. KC’s ignorance, virulent hatred and false victimization speaks for itself in his comments above. I have LGBT friends and family, some of whom have served this country in the armed forces. There is no reason to hate others this much who’ve done nothing to you, KC. None.

  1. No trackbacks yet.