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YAF Hosts Conservative Speaker Rick Santorum at Cal State LA

Former US Senator’s presence is met with tensions from students

Rick+Santorum+posing+for+pictures+with+students
Rick Santorum posing for pictures with students

Rick Santorum posing for pictures with students

Janice Peregrina

Janice Peregrina

Rick Santorum posing for pictures with students

Janice Peregrina, Staff Reporter

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The Cal State LA chapter of Young Americans for Freedom (YAF) hosted former United States Senator Richard John “Rick” Santorum for an event titled “Leftist Bigotry,” which focused on “the importance on religious liberty and why the government should not violate your religious beliefs” according to the event description provided by YAF’s Facebook account. Santorum spoke at the U-SU theater on April 12. The event was made public to both students and visitors of the university.

The event followed the recently dropped lawsuit against the university from Cal State LA YAF members earlier this year, regarding conservative speaker Ben Shapiro’s appearance at the university in February 2016. His speech was interrupted by student protests blocking entrance to the event, and YAF accused university employees of violating the constitutional amendment protecting free speech.

Cal State LA has since changed its policies on free expression on campus, and this was confirmed by Robert Lopez, Executive Director of Communications and Public Affairs. “As a public university, Cal State LA is committed to freedom of speech. [Rick Santorum and Ben Shapiro] were invited to speak by a student organization. Speakers from all sides of the political spectrum have spoken at the University.” YAF has hosted three other conservative speakers this year apart from Santorum.

Santorum opened his speech with a comment stating that in his years of speaking at universities, he has never had to bring security, and that he believes it’s a “change that is most disturbing.” “College campuses have now become somewhat hostile toward certain points of view,” Santorum claimed. He went on to bring up the subject of tolerance, defining it as tolerating “opinions or beliefs that you don’t agree with” including those that are considered “hateful” or “evil.” Santorum felt that those on the conservative right feel some opinions of the liberal left match these descriptions, and that it is “childish” the left shuts down any dissenting opinions.

There was no standing protest at the event, though campus security guards were stationed at the entrances to the U-SU building and theater. The speech was met with some controversy, however. Spencer Brown, Digital Director at YAF headquarters, provided an example of a scheduled “leftist counter-event” hosted by Good Night Right Side that said they would rally against the event. “The group organizing the censorious protest supports violence toward conservatives, stifling the free speech rights of those they disagree with, and a campus environment where disagreement is meet with violence, not discussion,” said Brown. Ultimately no rally was held on campus.

Chalkings drawn by students who opposed the event’s messages were scattered across campus and on the concrete seats in the U-SU plaza. Phrases such as “Love Trumps Hate,” “Education not Deportation,” and “No Ban No Wall” made up just some of student responses. The colorful display seemed to have cropped up in response to the numerous chalkings Cal State LA YAF members made to promote the event. There were some that simply named the date and time of Santorum’s speech, but there were also messages such as “Only 2 Genders” and “Proof of Legal Status Required Beyond This Point.”

A video, since deleted from YAF’s Facebook page, featured students protesting the latter messages by pouring water on the chalk, eliminating the drawings. These messages did not have any direct reference to what Santorum was scheduled to speak on. Cal State LA is a university that protects the education of undocumented students, and the Gender and Sexualities Resource Center provides a respectful space for students of all genders.

Feminists United, a burgeoning CSULA club, joined on the student response to Rick Santorum’s visit and posted a press release to their Facebook page that stated their stance on Santorum’s invitation to speak at the university. “His appearance on campus is in opposition to or contrary to the values that our school upholds, which include diversity, women’s rights, and LGBTQ rights. Our organization condemns the hate rhetoric delivered by Santorum.”

Santorum’s actual speech was around 15 minutes long and focused on some of his opinions on America’s traits and values. He praised America for being the first and only government that declared everyone has “unalienable rights given by God and not the government” to its citizens. Santorum explained that the First Amendment is a “structure to ensure that we get along with each other,” and that ethnic tensions in America are “ameliorated or even eliminated” because “everyone’s allowed” into this country.

The majority of the time allotted to YAF’s event was given to a question and answer session, where audience members were given the chance to discuss their opinions. Because of the limited time available, not much discussion was granted to each individual student.

The majority of those who questioned Santorum asked challenging questions regarding his opposing stances on LGBTQ rights and his claim that we are all welcome in America. Santorum’s answers to each question further revealed his pro-choice, anti same-sex marriage, and religious ideologies regarding government policies and laws. His answers were met with large criticism from many of the questioning students.

One notable moment from the Q&A was a question posed by Michelle, a science major at Cal State LA. She challenged Santorum’s previous statement, that the Constitution allows us to form families without the government dictating their lives, which does not line up with his views on same-sex marriage. He proposed that children from same-sex couples do not do as well as children from heterosexual couples, and Michelle stated that this was “subjective” and not based on any scientific evidence.

The full speech is available on YAF’s Facebook page. For the full statement from Feminists United, visit the Fems CSULA Facebook page.

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YAF Hosts Conservative Speaker Rick Santorum at Cal State LA