On Jan. 28, the Board of Aldermen unanimously passed a city ordinance banning the use of bed sheets to make signs. The reason? Last football season, some questionable signs were hung around town to show disdain for other teams. Most of these signs were made during “Bama Hate Week,” a week-long extravaganza of school spirit leading up to the Ole Miss vs. Alabama football game.
Obviously, some of these signs were blatantly vulgar, such as one with sexual innuendos regarding Nick Saban’s daughter. But this new ordinance seems to target the wrong problem. The issue isn’t the materials used but the messages on the signs.
Then why ban bed sheets for signs? Because many college students use bed sheets to make signs poking fun at rival teams. Strong paper is expensive and can be time consuming if professionally printed. Paint and a bed sheet are cheap and easy to use. So, it is pretty clear to me that the Board of Aldermen is trying to limit the speech of college students.
This new ordinance comes only months after the board passed an ordinance requiring bars to scan the IDs of patrons as they enter — an infringement on privacy and another instance of the Board of Aldermen targeting Ole Miss students.
While the new ordinance was prompted by the signs with crass messages, banning bed sheets for making signs makes little sense. The board is trying to ban students’ free speech without passing an ordinance blatantly doing so. Constitutionally, American citizens have a right to freedom of speech under Article I of the Bill of Rights. The Board of Aldermen knows that if it passed an ordinance limiting the language and meaning of signs, a lawsuit could ensue.
A similar act indirectly limiting free speech was instituted in the 90s by the Ole Miss Associated Student Body Senate to ban sticks at sporting events. This was an attempt to keep the Confederate flag out of sporting events. It was a smart move by the ASB Senate but another example of limiting free speech in a roundabout way.
Some limitations on free speech like that introduced by ASB were necessary to bring the Ole Miss community together. However, the most recent regulation is overbearing.
First of all, the areas where these signs were hung were, by and large, student housing developments. Few, if any, Oxford community members were exposed to the questionable writings. Second, there are other ways for students to make these signs. Large paper sheets and basic cloth are sure to replace bed sheets now that the ordinance has been passed. But these are flimsy and could easily tear off in wind or rain storms, littering the housing developments.
If the Board of Aldermen is concerned with the contents of future signs made by spirited students, this ordinance is not the solution. It only serves to disproportionately target college students, indirectly limiting the free speech of students.
Lauren Moses is sophomore accounting and political science major from Dallas.