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Unlearning Freedom By: Kimberly Miller
Palm Beach Post | Thursday, September 21, 2006


BOCA RATON — Florida Atlantic University students gave up their First Amendment rights Monday for a Quiznos sub, a slice of pizza, and a passport to a fake country where free speech is prohibited. The exercise, held in a cordoned-off part of campus that represented the "Kingdom of the Socialist States of the People's Republic of Boca Raton," was part of a Constitution Day event to teach students the value of free speech.

And while "police squads" of fraternity members charged with squashing free speech and separating friends from eating together because there was no right to assemble were fake, a truer lesson in the First Amendment unwittingly played out when 21-year-old Nicoy Latouche was asked to leave the "country."

Latouche, wearing a T-shirt emblazoned with marijuana leaves, refused to move away from his friends and soon was surrounded by a dozen black-shirted members of the Sigma Phi Epsilon fraternity, some of whom carried clubs and shields for show.

Latouche said he didn't know that a free speech event was going on and laughed at his situation at first. But it turned more tense when his chair was pulled out from under him and he was forced to stand up chest to chest with one of the fake enforcers.

After a several minute standoff where it seemed inevitable a fight would occur, a group of fake student protesters diverted the attention of the fake police who left Latouche alone.

Event organizers from the University Press said the scene with Latouche was not staged, and Latouche said he learned a firsthand lesson about the First Amendment.

"If I left, I would be sorry for the rest of my life," Latouche said. "He was trying to tell me to leave and I know I have a right to be here and I will die for my rights."

Although the Sigma Phi Epsilon fraternity brothers had to play the bad guys Monday, some said they were heartened by the resistance they saw in students like Latouche.

"Being from this country, I expected them to stand up to us," said student Marshall Trace. "If we didn't get resistance, I would be disappointed in our students for not having a sense of pride in something that sets us apart from the rest of the world."

About 300 students participated in the event sponsored by the Student Press Law Center, the College Media Advisers, the Society of Professional Journalists and the University Press.

Some students weren't as stalwart as Latouche about losing their First Amendment rights.

Jose Pereto's friends scattered reluctantly when they were told they couldn't eat together by the fake police who walked through the crowd banging their clubs on tables and chairs.

"I think they want to show us what it's like to live in a socialist country and they're doing a pretty good job," said Pereto, who added that the free food wasn't worth the loss of free speech. "My rights to be with my friends are more important."

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