On our right to protest

Oct. 26, 2016, 12:03 a.m.

On Oct. 7, the Stanford Precourt Institute for Energy’s sponsored Energy Seminar featured a talk by Professor Condoleezza Rice.  The event, which took place in NVIDIA Auditorium in the Huang Engineering Center, was open to the public. Activists with the group Students for Alternatives to Militarism peacefully and quietly handed out leaflets and held signs to demonstrate their opposition to the policies practiced by the speaker during her tenure as National Security Advisor, Secretary of State and as a board of directors member at Chevron.

The signs included one that read “Stop Fossil-fueled Imperialism,” which raised the issue of a link between energy practices of companies like Chevron that profit from environmental destruction and the militarist policies of the U.S. government. Another sign noted estimated casualty figures from the occupation of Iraq. The leaflets described Dr. Rice’s participation in the Bush Administration’s policymaking that led to the illegal invasion of Iraq in 2003 and that authorized illegal torture by the CIA and Department of Defense.

Two of the activists in the lobby near the beginning of the event who did not cause any disturbance nor any obstruction of movement, were ordered to leave the building by the program planner of the Precourt Institute and were threatened by campus police with charges of trespassing if they did not go outside. When asked what the basis was for the command, the representative of the Precourt Institute indicated that it was the message conveyed by the signs that she felt conflicted with the message she wanted to highlight.

Students for Alternatives to Militarism believes that it reflects poorly on the intellectual vitality of the Energy Seminar to need to resort to coercive state power to make those expressing opposing views invisible. Moreover, the type of content-based restriction on speech that was carried out in this case likely violates California’s Education Code section 94367, known as the Leonard Law, which prohibits private secular universities from restrictions on free speech protected by the federal and state constitutions. Stanford University, which prides itself on academic freedom, ought to do a better job of training its officials to respect freedom of speech.

-Brian Baum, Ph.D. student
President, Students for Alternatives to Militarism


Contact Brian Baum at bbaum ‘at’ stanford.edu. 

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