NAU officials confront students over U.S. flag handouts

2011-09-13T06:45:00Z 2011-09-13T14:16:31Z NAU officials confront students over U.S. flag handoutsHILLARY DAVIS Sun Staff Reporter Arizona Daily Sun
September 13, 2011 6:45 am  • 

Northern Arizona University students who were passing out American flags Friday in remembrance of 9/11 got a bigger response than they expected.

No fewer than four university officials and a police officer descended on the group, accusing them of hindering foot traffic and lacking an advance permit.

"9/11 is very important to me," said student Stephanee Freer. "That's why I do the event. Every year, I do something for 9/11 and it's never been disrupted like this."

University spokesman Tom Bauer said it had nothing to do with what they were saying and everything to do with keeping traffic moving.

"I don't think that this is a freedom of speech issue. We were not asking them to be quiet. We were not asking them to leave," he said. "We were asking them to move to a different location within the same area. This is basically clearing the walkways."

Freer said she meant to pass out flags all weekend but canceled the rest of her plans after the dust-up.


The NAU students were among students at more than 270 colleges and high schools participating in the "9/11: Never Forget Project," which is endorsed by the conservative Young America's Foundation. The University of Arizona also held an event, according to the YAF's website.

Freer videotaped the confrontation, which at various times showed university officials asking the students to go outside, get a permit, or move to the other end of the building where few other students were congregating.

The students handing out flags had originally set up outside the University Union, but spontaneously moved inside after it started raining.

Bauer said permission is easily granted for events held inside, but it must be given.

The students were stationed along a wall a few paces away from Starbucks, just by the main east doors and near the main cafeteria entrances.

Unlike with outdoor demonstrations, students need to get clearance from the Office of Student Life to hold a small event like this indoors, according to the student handbook.

Freer's video shows the small group -- two or three students -- arguing with four university employees, including an associate dean, who asked them to move.


When the rain started and the students brought their flags, pins and bumper stickers inside, an employee at the nearby information desk approached them to ask if they had filled out the university forms to reserve space.

Freer founded the NAU Conservatives club three years ago, and she said university employees recognize her as a leader of the group. However, Freer said she and the other students weren't acting on behalf of the club. Freer is no longer formally in the NAU Conservatives club but works closely with them as a field representative for the Leadership Institute, which supports conservative student clubs at college campuses.

Bauer said that it doesn't matter, though, as the permission process also applies to individuals.


According to Freer's footage, the first employee to walk up suggested they move outside, to which Freer replied that it was raining.

The second employee, a coordinator from the Office of Student Life, told the students that it is the same policy for all student organizations to reserve indoors space, and that they could move outside or step into a booth up the hall.

Freer said that the booth was out of the way and nobody would see them.

"This is for 9/11," she said. "Do you want to shut down our 9/11 table? Are you unpatriotic?"

She also asked the employee what the First Amendment states, and the employee replied, "Free speech in a designated time, place and manner."

The students vocally sneered at the definition.

After they folded up their small table, not much bigger than a TV dinner tray, a third employee told them the university is within its bounds to regulate the "time, place and manner" where students can assemble.

"You're not following what administration is letting you do," she said.


When Associate Dean Deborah Harris approached the students, as shown on the videotape, she said she wanted to reach a compromise that both sides could be happy with and that nobody was judging their project. (She declined further comment Monday.)

Freer replied that they were. She said Monday that she believes she, a conservative, was targeted politically.

"I wasn't waiting for an incident. I wasn't looking for an incident," she said. "This was really about 9/11 and it turned into a free speech violation."

Bauer stressed again Monday that wasn't the case.

"It was just asking you to please take this display and move it over there," he said. "Do the same thing, say the same thing, just not where you are right now."


After the students refused Harris' request to move, a uniformed NAU police officer stopped by to collect the students' names for the administration. A slide at the end of Freer's video said they were not ticketed and the officer said they did not commit a crime.

The NAUPD online crime log does not mention going to the Union for the flag situation nor does it refer to a police report.

The students said they have been summoned by the dean of students office, though. Bauer said Monday that the students would not be disciplined, only that officials wanted to talk with them.

Hillary Davis can be reached at or 556-2261.

Web link:

Copyright 2015 Arizona Daily Sun. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

(45) Comments

  1. westerly
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    westerly - September 21, 2011 1:17 am
    Really, people, you shouldn't be surprised. It depends on whose ox is being gored. I was a student at NAU on 9/11, and campus police apparently had no trouble with groups going through the parking lots removing the flags from radio antennae. Mine was fastened on with zip ties, and when they couldn't cut them, they broke the antenna off and left it on the hood of my car. Someone also applied a PEACE PLEASE sticker on the paintwork....a bear to get off. surprises.
  2. aardvark
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    aardvark - September 18, 2011 12:23 pm
    Dear Ms. Freer: The content of your message does not give you special privileges to set up your table where ever you want, as in your words: "We didn’t want to compete with the Sororities and this hippy dude over here for space...", or when offered immediately space in two open booths: "Yea, they are in the middle of nowhere, where nobody can see it. This is for 9/11..." The legal doctrine that the content of your message gives you no privileges is the essence of the right of free speech.
  3. LoveFlag
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    LoveFlag - September 16, 2011 1:33 pm
    Freer would be "homing" in on other student groups b/c there's very little room to begin with, and they followed the rules to be there. SHE DID NOT. The number of groups, individuals, vendors, etc, w/ permits is limited because it's so tight there. I encourage everyone blasting this to visit the space at lunch. You'll see why NAU requires ALL folks to get a free permit. I simply don't understand why she thinks she should be held to a different standard! It's about safety & respect not "freedom"!
  4. longtimer
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    longtimer - September 16, 2011 11:15 am
    Gold- I stand corrected on the U of A memorial- but is U of A, not NAU. I'll point out Ward Churchill doesn't teach at NAU, and that students are free to take classes with whomever they like or attend college wherever they want (grades permitting) if NAU isn't to their liking (THAT BTW is real FREEDOM). On her video Freer states she doesn't want to be put in with the Sororities (who got their permits) or be placed in the upper Union where she felt she didn't have a sufficient audience.
  5. gold1500
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    gold1500 - September 15, 2011 4:29 pm
    longtimer: Incorrect. The Border Patrol memorial on the U of A campus mall was not permanent. It was put up to contrast not conflict with the obsene chain link "border wall" put up by la raza (et. al). Freers actions may have been a bit theatrical, but I would have had a recording device too especially on a campus with kids being taught by (some) ward churchill like minded instructors. Where in the article did it say that she was trying to horn in on other groups.
  6. longtimer
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    longtimer - September 15, 2011 9:42 am
    Dschwarpa- Well you are right, but had the Brits caught the Tea Party "Indians", they would have been tossed in jail or shot- so not a great analogy to someone who like Freer who chose not to play by the rules, and videorecord it to send it into the right-wing blogosphere for "journalists" like Drudge to pick up on. All as per the website's instructions. This is just fake, manufactured news to feed the right's anger about everything.
  7. longtimer
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    longtimer - September 15, 2011 7:40 am
    Gold- You do realize that Freer staging her little drama (sans permit, but with camcorder) at the Student Union at NAU and building a permenant memorial at the U of A Tucson really are two different things. Correct? Perhaps you should look at her "in-your-face" YouTube video, then maybe imagine she was giving out flags of some other nation- then tell us her rights were abridged. Remember- she wanted to horn in on other student groups in that space who HAD permits and played by the rules.
  8. gold1500
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    gold1500 - September 14, 2011 3:39 pm
    "Bauer said permission is easily granted for events held inside"

    Yeah right, just look what UA students had to go thru to put up a Border Patrol MEMORIAL on campus, meanwhile the La Raza chain link fence placed across the UA mall was no problem, that certainly didn't impede student movement of affect safety!......

  9. Dschwarpa
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    Dschwarpa - September 14, 2011 12:59 pm
    Time and time again at our institutions of education, where the very foundations of our laws, culture and society are being taught, there seems to be that lack of understanding of what those things actually mean in practice.

    Last time I recall, those involved in the Boston Tea Party did not apply for a permit with King George II of England to conduct their activity, nor did the patriots apply for permits to gather in public or private in militias. We have become sheep that need be led...
  10. JMStrunk
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    JMStrunk - September 14, 2011 11:59 am
    Why are so many right-wingers being obnoxious? They weren't asked to leave, they were asked to move as not to obstruct walking traffic in an already crowded area. They reason they didn't is for not of want to compete with sororities. Their rights weren't being stepped on by being asked to move their group where they weren't blocking way through.

    Next, you're going to have the neo-cons screaming 'Genocide!'.
  11. IGetItAlready
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    IGetItAlready - September 14, 2011 11:07 am
    It's begining to appear that people will use this type of thing for attention. If the only concern were traffic on the sidewalks, I would think maybe two school officials asking the students to move would have sufficed.

    The fact that they rolled in in force, with an armed cop makes quite a statement and it has nothing to do with sidewalk traffic.
  12. FreedomLuvR
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    FreedomLuvR - September 14, 2011 9:31 am
    "if it was Muslims, hispanics, gays, atheists...." Right,in other words anyone who has equal rights but isn't "one of us". I love how a small part of the conservative movement is based solely on being a victim of some minority or other whose rights threaten their hold on power. Poor babies.

    Thanks longtimer for pointing out the manufactured controversy. Today's equivalent of the 1960s campus radical, just for all the wrong reasons.
  13. cgbrown13
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    cgbrown13 - September 14, 2011 8:29 am
    longtimer said: "To see what the "Real" story is here, take a look at the web site (Young Americans for Freedom) where Ms. Freer got this idea:"

    Thanks longtimer for sharing the site. The project instructions tells participants "You will most likely need to attain permission from your student activities or campus life office."
  14. longtimer
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    longtimer - September 14, 2011 7:48 am
    To see what the "Real" story is here, take a look at the web site (Young Americans for Freedom) where Ms. Freer got this idea:
    What you find here is a website set up to cause events like the one at NAU to happen nationwide, simply so they can wind up on Drudge, Rush, etc. Fake news.
    If the Arizona Daily Sun did their homework, they could have seen this event for what it is: Conservative astroturf trying to look grassroots.
  15. ridiculous2010
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    ridiculous2010 - September 14, 2011 7:37 am
    "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."

    Nope, I don't see the part that gives the government the right to designate the place and time... I see the contrary, "Congress shall make NO LAW..."
  16. AZLocal
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    AZLocal - September 14, 2011 7:30 am
    Nobody asked them to stop what they were doing. Several options were proposed. Who is to decide which groups are given a right to disregard the rules simply because their cause is the right cause. I do agree with the cause, but not all acts of patriotism are conducted without harm to others. So just follow the rules. The students were well prepared to repeat their first amendment rights, but are they aware of fire marshal restrictions for blocking an area of egress? They had a choice.
  17. theoneandonlyjonasv
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    theoneandonlyjonasv - September 14, 2011 7:16 am
    Nice try there. The word FREEDOM does not mean shapeless and undefined. Sooooo, since it is defined then FREEDOM does not include its antithesis: police state would be one of them. That's part of freedom's shape and definition.
  18. BeanerECMO
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    BeanerECMO - September 14, 2011 6:56 am
    Ahhhh, intimidation, thine appearance is, "Let's have a chat with university officials."
  19. Jack von Bauer
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    Jack von Bauer - September 14, 2011 4:54 am
    Obviously the students handing out small flags to remember 9/11, violated the well known amendment to the constitution which guarantees the separation of College and Patriotism.

    Now if only they hand BURNED THE FLAGS. That is allowed without "permit."
  20. LoveFlag
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    LoveFlag - September 13, 2011 11:56 pm
    It's ridiculous to claim this as a political or "patriotic" issue. I've worked in this building for several years, and know firsthand at how congested this location is: NAU rightly requires student groups and individuals to get a FREE permit. It is simply ridiculous for these students or anyone here to say they should be exempt simply b/c it was in honor of 9/11. Who then gets to decide on what is exempt from a university-wide policy? They should expect to be treated the same.
  21. Damocles
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    Damocles - September 13, 2011 11:36 pm
    To say that a 'public' university is private property and you are not guaranteed access, is a bit of a illogical statement. Is it a public institution? If so, then the authorities can not prevent your access. Neither do they have the ability to restrict 1st Amendment rights.

    It's time to start suing these institutions and the individuals whose interpretations are faulty. Not just 'get used to it folks, we live in a police state.' If you allow it, they will make your police state worse.
  22. Zane Watts
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    Zane Watts - September 13, 2011 8:18 pm
    I do not know all the details. Nor would someone who witnessed the occasion. This story is incomplete as it does not show instances of other groups in the same situation. I understand many have agendas on both sides. I just believe the story from the hip is inflammatory and boils peoples blood for advertising.
  23. Phredator
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    Phredator - September 13, 2011 7:37 pm
    I think you are all missing the big picture. We have an administration that chants TIME, PLACE, AND MANNER mindlessly and doesn't seem to think anything is unusual about this behaviour.
    Seriously, you should never hire ANYONE who chants "time place and manner" repetitively.
    Should be a remix on youtube of her chanting time place and manner.
    All this institution can be, is an example of what behaviour NOT to emulate.
  24. Joseph
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    Joseph - September 13, 2011 5:23 pm
    So funny what all the people commenting don't know! Also funny is how you so called "conservatives" are believing everything you read in the "liberal" news media! C'mon people, every group that doesn't follow the rules gets treated the same way on campus. There are areas set aside for properly permitted groups to hand out whatever they want. When University officials arrive and the group sticks a camera in their face, that is called looking for a fight. And what do you know, the media runs w/it!
  25. RickyRob2
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    RickyRob2 - September 13, 2011 5:22 pm
    What is the difference between a 'right' and a 'privilege'? When does a right cease to being a right? It ceases the moment you regulate it. Because then you have to do what others say in order for you to practice the privilege of 'free speech'. Nobody can regulate a right. However they can regulate a privilege.

    Wake up America. You lost your rights YEARS ago.
  26. Knuckles
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    Knuckles - September 13, 2011 4:25 pm
    I bet if they were handing out pamphlets promoting the gay, lesbian, transgender lifestyle they wouldn't have been harassed. C'mon folks, go onto any college campus and there are kids handing out all kinds of leaflets everywhere all the time. The liberal elites continue their efforts to undermine the true American spirit.
  27. derekcrane
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    derekcrane - September 13, 2011 4:14 pm
    I bet that these students would have no problem from the obviously left-wing administration if they passed out condoms.
  28. Cowboy
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    Cowboy - September 13, 2011 4:06 pm
    NAU is in Flagstaff. Flagstaff is the seat of Coconino County, which along with Pima was one of two Arizona counties to vote for Barack Obama in the 2008 presidential election.
  29. Cowboy
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    Cowboy - September 13, 2011 4:03 pm
    mikekarr said: "Buildings on university campuses are essentially private property, and you are subject to the rules and will of the owning authority."

    The 'owning authority' of a 'public university' is the public.
  30. peterpan
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    peterpan - September 13, 2011 3:43 pm
    "Peter Pan: We called the police because the preacher was disturbing the peace, not because we were trying to shut him up."

    Homgard I get what you're saying about the messenger and the message. That is what the article described, however you were first to call it a "police state." You reporting the preacher and requesting he "change location" is the same as asking the students to "change locations." In the case of the disruptive preacher...he actually moved!
  31. jabusse
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    jabusse - September 13, 2011 3:42 pm
    flagless staff? They were in the right place but went inside when it started to rain. Do they issue rain conditional permits Rain we protest here snow we protest there, sun here, sleet there, cold here, hot there, wind ..., you get the picture. The administration is pretty lame to say they would have issued a permit given the only reason the kids were in the "wrong" place was that the weather changed. The administration was just showing their lack of ability to cope with climate change.
  32. mikekarr
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    mikekarr - September 13, 2011 2:57 pm
    Really, the core flawed premise here is that you have unfettered 1st Amendment rights at public education institutions. You do not. Buildings on university campuses are essentially private property, and you are subject to the rules and will of the owning authority. It is completely within the rights of the University to enforce rules as they see fit. If they should is another question, but you are owed and deserve nothing.
  33. getitoverwithsoon
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    getitoverwithsoon - September 13, 2011 2:54 pm
    If either of these two scenarios had occurred:
    A: Muslims handing out Muslim materials of any kind, or B: If the higher ranking employee who came to talk to the students had an immediate family member to have died in the WTC destruction, then you would have a different outcome than the one you are now reading. Any of you want to bet on it??
  34. cgbrown13
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    cgbrown13 - September 13, 2011 1:45 pm
    The students were allowed to pass out flags, they just weren't in the proper space and they were stepping out in front of people trying to walk through the Union. If you see the video, the narrator says she didn't want to move because she doesn't want to "compete with sororities" that had actually gotten permission to be there. They were asked four times (to which they refused--how reasonable is that?) to move down the hall, they were never told they weren't allowed to pass out flags or speak.
  35. holmgard
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    holmgard - September 13, 2011 12:46 pm
    Peter Pan: We called the police because the preacher was disturbing the peace, not because we were trying to shut him up. People are free to exercise their rights as long their methods do not impinge on other peoples rights, in that case we had the right to quiet work environment. Just like I believe the pro-lifers have the right to protest outside Planned Parenthood, no matter how despicable I personally think their behavior is. I also have the right to shout obscenities at them as I drive by.
  36. holmgard
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    holmgard - September 13, 2011 12:30 pm
    upstream and Peter Pan: Don't presume to know what others think. My statement had nothing to do with supporting or not supporting what the students were doing. Rather it was a statement of the reality we live in. If you want to wave Mexican flags or Iranian flags or burn the US flag, I think you have the right to do so. My comment about the preaching was to illustrate that while one guy was allowed to disturb the peace so that staff and students could not get work done, these students were not.
  37. oldgeez
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    oldgeez - September 13, 2011 12:05 pm
    I can't help but believe that had they been Hispanics handing out Mexican flags, or Muslims handing out whatever flags this whole thing would have been handled differently.

    Once it started raining either group would have been invited in and a table set up in the most advantageous place for them.
  38. holeycrullers
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    holeycrullers - September 13, 2011 11:52 am
    I'm OK with these folks having to get a permit to hand out flags, provided that the rules are applied equally to everyone and are simply there to keep things moving, not prohibit anything. HOWEVER, I do have a problem with a university official whose definition of the First Amendment is "free speech in a designated time, place, and manner."

    Uh, OK, how about this: from now on anyone is free to disagree with me, but they have to do it at 3am in a deserted parking lot, and they have to whisper...
  39. DJCook
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    DJCook - September 13, 2011 11:34 am
    I wonder, if these students were burning the American Flag would they have been stopped. I think an exception to an administrative rule could have been made, after all the Flag represents the time when we were a Constitutional Republic.
  40. Granny
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    Granny - September 13, 2011 9:39 am
    Sounds a little prejudice against Americans on American soil.
    Think what would have happened had it been another countries flag. Someone "in the know" could have offered to help. Not everyone knows 'ALL" the rules a university has. Let us all
    try to work together.It makes for a better place to live.
  41. peterpan
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    peterpan - September 13, 2011 9:32 am
    holmgard said: "We live in a police state folks, get used to it. .... We were told nothing could be done because he had a right to free speech. Crazy!"

    We live in a police state where the "the man" allows free speech in a public area. What point are you arguing? The police state or the fact they defied you and allowed someone to exercise their rights.

  42. upstream
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    upstream - September 13, 2011 8:38 am
    Those claiming "police state" tend to complain when their specific causes are limited, but if flags from a country not friendly to the U.S. were being handed out these same people would be the first to call security. Freedom is a double edged sword, and waving the flag harder than your neighbor does not make you more of a patriot.
  43. scalkins01
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    scalkins01 - September 13, 2011 7:54 am
    No good deed goes unpunished!

    These students should be commended, not taken to task! I am encouraged to see our young adults take a stand in commeration of an event that significantly defines us as a nation. The only limiting not seen condition to a well thought plan was the rain.

    Rather than having an incident, maybe what the administration should have done would be to accompany the students to the appropriate authority to obtain a permit?

    Thanks for your work young people, God bless you!

  44. opinion
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    opinion - September 13, 2011 7:41 am
    I understand that the students involved could have gone thru proper channels to hand out flags. However, would it have killed administration to let this one go? How bad can it be to give out THE AMERICAN FLAG on 9/11/11!?
  45. holmgard
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    holmgard - September 13, 2011 6:35 am
    We live in a police state folks, get used to it. You are not allowed to do anything without permission from the authorities. Ironically, a couple of years ago a peer and I called the NAU police on an evangelist who was using a loudspeaker to preach, and disrupting our work environment. This guy was at least two football fields away. We were told nothing could be done because he had a right to free speech. Crazy!
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