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Free Speech Exercised, Tested At UK's Constitution Day

Alan Lytle

Some high school and UK students crowded into the Cats Den Wednesday for the university’s annual Constitution Day Celebration.

Since 2004 all publicly funded universities are required by law to commemorate the signing of the document and provide an opportunity for reflection on the freedoms it affords. 

One of the invited speakers this year was Iraq war veteran and current UK journalism student Matt Bradford.  Bradford lost both his legs and his sight after hitting an improvised explosive device.

"When you think of the Constitution it's the backbone of our wonderful country.  It's what we stand for.  Patriots fought to the death in 1776 and on when we declared independence from Great Britain.  They fought to the death for a country; united and for our own rights," Bradford said.

The right of free speech was tested however with the appearance of U-S Senate write-in candidate Robert Ransdell who used his allotted time to deliver a racist rant about the "Jewish-owned and controlled media," as well as to "stress the need for this nation's white majority to recognize that they have ethnic interests," before having his microphone cut off by the sound crew.

The horrified high school teachers then hustled their students to their respective buses, prompting this rejoinder from UK Rural Journalism director Al Cross.

"You've just witnessed in this hall a laboratory experiment about the extent and nature of free speech.  I think most of you found the remarks of the write-in candidate deeply offensive, however in this country people do have the right to speak, even if their views are offensive.  Now organizations can have their own rules about how much access they are going to give people like that but they do have a right to speak," Cross said.

UK professor Buck Ryan with the Citizen Kentucky Project, which organized the event, later told WUKY that one of his students invited Mr. Ransdell to speak and that the candidate later called Ryan to apologize.

The university also used the occasion to celebrate the 100th anniversary of its journalism school and presented an inaugural Enoch Grehan Prize to DuPont Manual Journalism teachers Jamie Miller and Liz Palmer.

In response to the controversy UK officials released the following statement:

The University Of Kentucky hosted it’s 11th Constitution Day, a federally mandated program for all higher education institutions to recognize and celebrate the U.S. Constitution. Elected officials and candidates in this November’s elections were invited. One of the candidates for the U.S. Senate is Robert Ransdell. Mr. Ransdell was invited because he has registered and has been qualified as a write-in candidate for the U.S. Senate with the Kentucky Secretary of State Office.

Constitution Day is not about politics, it is a celebration of the principles of the Constitution. All speakers are asked to focus on those principles. Unfortunately, Mr. Ransdell included his political beliefs and platform in his comments. Many of those in attendance felt his comments were inappropriate, especially for an audience that included high school students. The University Of Kentucky was not aware of the content of his remarks prior to him speaking and does not condone or endorse any political platform or agenda.

Credit Alan Lytle
U-S Senate write-in candidate Robert Ransdell had his microphone cut off after delivering a racist rant at UK's annual Constitution Day event.