ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — In a newly-devised policy, the University of New Mexico has enacted a practice of erecting signs to advise students that a “free speech zone” with potentially “uncomfortable” or “controversial” content is ahead, including this week when a gospel preacher visited the campus to talk about repentance and faith in Christ. The controversial development has some concerned that the signs could dissuade potential listeners from even hearing the messages.
“If we don’t put up the signs, we get many requests to remove [speakers] and ask speakers to leave,” Ryan Lindquist, the director of student activities at the university, told local television station KRQE.
The signs read, “Free speech zone ahead: Topics discussed may be uncomfortable or controversial. The topics and opinions discussed are those of private individuals and not the University of New Mexico.”
The practice was reportedly initiated following spring break. The signs are posted by the Student Activities Center whenever a non-university sponsored event is held on campus.
Several signs were erected near the area where Ryan Denton of Christ in the Wild Gospel Society was preaching the gospel on Monday. Others were set up by an environmental educational effort.
Denton, who has ministered to students numerous times on the campus, shared photos of the signs to social media.
“New gospel-preacher warning system put in by UNM,” he wrote.
University attorney Katherine Miefert, the associate general counsel for the University of New Mexico, said that the entire campus is a free speech zone, but students often complain about various topics or events that they find controversial.
Lindquist outlined that he consequently decided to put up the signs as an “educational opportunity.” The signage had been utilized in the past, and made a comeback due to complaints from upset hearers.
“It’s just educating students, faculty, staff and visitors that they (the speakers) have the right to [communicate a message] on campus,” he said.
However, some believe that the signs can actually serve as detours away from free speech because they warn students that the activity could make them feel uncomfortable—including the public proclamation of the gospel.
“When you put up those signs, it really seems like you’re taking people away from going to those type of events because they might not be comfortable with it,” senior Mary Lopez told reporters.
“While groups should be free to put up their own warning signs, no school should impose on schools this extra tax on speech by influencing students to avoid certain displays. Thanks to the U.S. Constitution, the United States is a free speech zone, something that school administrators should remember and respect,” also remarked Kristan Hawkins of Students for Life.
While KRQE reports that “the university insists that [the signs] are not meant to be trigger warnings,” the student newspaper The Daily Lobo quotes Lindquist as stating, “Those signs were put there basically as a trigger warning for people who may be uncomfortable with the content that is being discussed … so that those signs give people an opportunity to avoid or find a detour … to get around those spaces if they don’t want to engage in that type of event.”
When Christian News Network attempted to obtain clarification on this contradiction, Linquist directed questions to university attorney Miefert, who has not returned a previous call. However, Christian News Network was able to confirm through an audio file provided by The Daily Lobo that the outlet’s “trigger warning” quote was accurate.