Nyclu Essay Contest

Photo: Courtesy of the NYCLU

On July 20, Broadway stars will team up with the New York Civil Liberties Union for the 13th year in a row with their Broadway Stands Up for Freedom performance. This year the NYCLU is hosting the event at the Skirball Center for the Performing Arts, located at 566 LaGuardia Place, just below Washington Square Park and at the base of the NYU Kimmel Center for University Life.

The event features performances from a long list of Broadway talent, including a couple Tony Award winners.

The host of this star-studded concert is Susan Blackwell, who has been on Broadway, television and films. Her experience on the stage includes creating and playing a character based on herself in the Broadway production [title of show] and the Off Broadway musical NOW. HERE. THIS.

Blackwell is also the founder of Blackwell & Co, whose goal is to inspire creative expression and education.

The keynote speaker of the event is Jeanine Tesori, composer of Fun Home. The musical is based off of Alison Bechdel’s memoir published in 2006 and received the Tony Award for Best Musical this year. It is the emotional story of Alison’s life as she deals with her dysfunctional family. Michael Cerveris and Judy Kuhn, both performers from the musical, will also be featured in the concert.

There is a long list of performers partaking in Broadway Stands Up for Freedom, some coming from big name musicals such as The King and I and Hand to God. Here are the performers listed on the NYCLU website:

Celia Keenan-Bolger (The Glass Menagerie)
Andréa Burns (In the Heights)
Christina Bianco (Application Pending)
Steve Boyer (Hand to God)
Joseph Carroll (Cinderella)
Michael Cerveris (Fun Home) & Loose Cattle
Kate Ferber (Ghost Brothers of Darkland County)
Montego Glover (It Shoulda Been You)
Judy Kuhn (Fun Home)
Griffin Matthews and Matt Gould (Creators of Invisible Thread)
Malcolm Merriweather
Ruthie Ann Miles (The King and I)
Ashley Park (The King and I)
Sarah Stiles (Hand to God)
Shaina Taub (Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812)
Grace McLean (Brooklynite)
Brandon Uranowitz (An American in Paris)
Rachel Resheff (Fish in the Dark)
Seth Rudetsky (Disaster!)
Liana Stampur (founding performer) and Clinton Curtis

However, there are more than just performers at this event. Director Peter Flynn and musical director Paul Staroba will also be present.

Among these big Broadway names will also be a few talented NYC students. These students are the winners of the NYCLU Freedom of Expression Contest, in which public school students express what they think are the most important civil liberty issues in their lives. These students can express their thoughts in a variety of media, making it different from a typical essay competition.

The NYCLU, which created this event with the help of Broadway stars, was founded in 1951 as the New York affiliate of the American Civil Liberties Union and now have almost 50,000 members. The NYCLU works to protect the unalienable rights of citizens everywhere, including freedom of speech and expression. The organization has eight chapters thus far.

The Broadway Stands Up for Freedom event will last for about an hour and a half, and regular admission tickets are $60. However, NYU affiliates may purchase tickets for around $15.

There is also the option to purchase sponsorship and VIP tickets, beginning with Priority Seats at $100 each and continuing up to Benefactor at $10,000 with 12 priority seats, prominent recognition in the program, and a VIP reception with the stars after the show.

You decide how much you are willing to spend for the night and give to the NYCLU.

So whether you are a theatre enthusiast or a civil liberties supporter, this night has plenty to offer. Make sure to hurry and purchase tickets, because the event is fast approaching.

-by Laura Seaman


By Adam Steinbaugh December 28, 2017

In the wake of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute’s repeated attempts to stifle student supporters of the “Save the Union” campaign, the New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU) has now weighed in with a letter of its own, sharing its “grave concerns about credible reports that the Institute has been violating its own policies on free expression and due process in a very serious and disingenuous manner.” RPI’s efforts have found it tearing down student flyers, fencing off a startlingly large portion of its campus to keep protesters out of view of a black-tie fundraiser, and charging a student with solicitation for sharing a letter, critical of the administration, in a dormitory building.

The NYCLU echoes many of the concerns FIRE has raised acrossthreeletters to the Institute, and particularly hones in on RPI’s repeated pattern of invoking tortured readings of its own policies in order to charge “Save The Union” advocates with frivolous offenses. For example, charges included those of trespassing and “solicitation” through the distribution of a letter in support of the “Save the Union” campaign, which RPI levied by way of its policy prohibiting students from “operating a business.” In our third letter to RPI, FIRE pointed out that the charges were inconsistent with RPI’s own policies.

While all of the charges appear to have now been dropped, RPI did so grudgingly, telling the students that they’re not being held responsible this time, but that RPI’s tortured reading of its policies is correct and must be followed in the future. For example:

After review of all information presented related to this incident, it has been determined that this will be resolved informally and that no further judicial process is necessary.

Though this matter is now resolved, it is important that you understand and comply with Institute policies, including the following:


2. Students and other guests must receive prior authorization from the Office of Student Living and Learning to post or distribute information in a residence hall.

As the NYCLU points out, RPI is apparently inventing policies at will:

We are concerned because (as seen in attached list of RPI Policies): 1) the alleged policy regarding prior authorization before distributing flyers in residence halls does not actually seem to exist and it also seems to be in violation of the Student Bill of Rights, which guarantees free expression. It is very worrisome that RPI would essentially make up a non-existent policy to try to chill free expression by students, and then resort to such absurdities as claiming it falls under the policy on Operating a Business; it appears that Michael Gardner and Bryan Johns may have been singled out in a retaliatory manner based on prior events; [and] the letters […] warn that an apparently non-existent policy must be followed in the future chill free expression.

The NYCLU is right. The policy at issue is quite clearly concerned with preventing commercial solicitation or “fundraising activities,” not the distribution of a letter intended to advocate a particular view about campus affairs. By its very terms, the policy only requires permission to conduct fundraising efforts. If RPI’s definition of “solicit” includes criticizing the administration, then the explicit terms of the policy — “[n]o outside organization or person may solicit in residence halls or apartments” — would mean that nobody could talk about campus affairs at all, with or without administrators’ permission.

That obviously was not the point of the policy, yet RPI now seems to believe that it can punish students for distributing “information” in a dorm without permission.

RPI has repeatedly invoked policies that either do not exist or cannot reasonably be read to apply to critics of the Institute’s administration. Even in defending against criticism that RPI’s policies are so vague that they allow for inconsistent or arbitrary enforcement, RPI’s own attorney argued that no student could be “sanctioned for expressing an opinion, provided it is within the realm of civil discourse (e.g., not hate speech or threatening).” But RPI does not appear to have a policy requiring that speech be within the realm of “civil discourse” — a criterion that, if it were required under RPI policy, leaves administrators with nearly limitless discretion to penalize speech critical of, as here, RPI administrators.

RPI has a long history of responding to its critics (or campus controversies) by censoring them, drawing far greater attention to the criticism or controversy in the process. A good way for RPI to avoid the Streisand Effect would be to consider reforms of its policies so that they’re clear and consistent with the Institute’s purported commitment to freedom of expression.

Schools: Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute Cases: Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute: Prohibition on Homecoming Demonstrations

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