An unexpected lesson in freedom of speech

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A group that included high school students got an unexpected lesson in the messiness of freedom of speech Wednesday during Constitution Day celebrations in the Cat’s Den.

Write-in U.S. Senate candidate Robert Ransdell’s microphone was cut during a speech to promote his 2014 “With Jews We Lose” campaign platform at the third day of Constitution Week events, which were sponsored by the First Amendment Center’s Citizen Kentucky Project and organized by UK’s Citizen Kentucky class.

Ransdell, a self-described pro-white candidate, discussed his platform that says American policy favors Israel over its own citizens and that there is a bias against white Americans in crime coverage and policy.

He was invited to speak by a student who helped organize the event, according to an article on A quick Google search of Ransdell shows multiple articles and posts detailing the write-in candidate’s pro-white platform.

As of Wednesday night, it was unclear if organizers of the event had known Ransdell’s platform.

First Amendment Center director Mike Farrell said that he needed to speak to professor Buck Ryan, the Citizen Kentucky project director, before commenting.

Ryan was not available to the Kernel for comment.

The event featured several other speakers, including decorated Marine Matt Bradford. DuPont Manual journalism teachers Jamie Miller and Liz Palmer were awarded the Enoch Grehan Prize.

“Constitution Day is not about politics, it is a celebration of the principles of the Constitution,” wrote UK spokeswoman Kathy Johnson in a statement released by the university Wednesday evening. “All speakers are asked to focus on those principles. Unfortunately, Mr. Ransdell included his political beliefs and platform in his comments. Many of those in attendance felt his comments were inappropriate, especially for an audience that included high school students. The University of Kentucky was not aware of the content of his remarks prior to him speaking and does not condone or endorse any political platform or agenda.”

Al Cross, director of the UK Institute for Rural Journalism, was supposed to follow Ransdell’s speech with a talk about campaign finance. Instead, Cross’ speech began with a discussion of how Ransdell’s talk had been a learning experience about how freedom of speech can often be messy.

Cross said that rather than cutting the power to Ransdell’s microphone, he might have told the staff to inform Ransdell that his time was up.

“It was an unintended experiment in the nature of free speech,” Cross said. “I’m uncomfortable (with) anyone being pulled off the stage for saying things people don’t agree with.”

Frank LoMonte, executive director of the Student Press Law Center, said it can be difficult to cut off a speaker, particularly at an event celebrating the First Amendment.

The fact that there was a “captive audience of young people” would play a role in that decision, LoMonte said.

“This is always the tension when you invite a wide open discussion on social and political issues,” LoMonte said. “There is always a risk that someone is going to say something extreme.”

He also said that though speech must be tolerated, it does not have to be sponsored.

“It doesn’t mean you have to give him a podium and a microphone,” LoMonte said.

The first part of the speech dealt with the Constitution, said Abigail Shelton, a student who helped organize the event. It was only when Ransdell began to discuss his political beliefs that he was cut off by a Student Center employee, she said.

Ransdell told the Kernel he was interrupted about halfway through his speech and walked outside to the free speech wall, which was temporarily put up by the Young Americans for Liberty in celebration of Constitution Day, where he wrote, “Vote for Robert Ransdell 2014 Write Him In.”

About half of the audience left after Ransdell spoke, Shelton said.

The Young Americans for Liberty did not witness Ransdell’s speech and would not comment on whether his right to free speech was violated, wrote chapter president Dallas Browning, a political science and economics major, in an email to the Kernel.

Ransdell told the Kernel he called after the event to apologize to Ryan, who seemed caught off-guard by his speech.

Ryan seemed supportive of free speech in all forms, Ransdell said, but that was the extent of his backing.

Though Miller had already taken the stage to accept the Enoch Grehan Prize for excellence in teaching journalism, he returned to the podium to address his high school students who were in the crowd.

A video on Youtube showed the speech by Ransdell as well as Miller’s response.

“I don’t know how that guy managed to weasel his way up on stage, be part of this production, but I think it’s disgusting,” Miller said to cheers from the front rows.

While the event was uncomfortable, Cross added, the encounter was a teachable moment for the students attending.