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)
- OUR VIEW: US flag continues as symbol of debate – Daily News Journal – Oct. 12, 2013
- LETTER: MT Lambda dishonors US flag with its display – Daily News Journal – Oct. 13, 2013