Iowa State celebrates First Amendment with food and interactive events


Mia Wang/Iowa State Daily

Free-speech activist, public speaker, recording artist and author Simon Tam performs live music and delivers a speech on Tuesday at Memorial Union as a part of the 2019 First Amendment Days celebration.

Editor’s note: This article was updated to note that the religion exhibit will be in Parks Library, not the Memorial Union.

An annual celebration in its 21st year, First Amendment Days will promote democratic freedoms with free food and activities across campus.

From April 10-14, a variety of events and interactive exhibits will take place on campus to promote the freedoms of speech, religion, press, assembly and the right to petition the government.

The First Amendment Committee is comprised of members from Iowa State’s Greenlee School of Journalism and Communication and Iowa State Daily Media Group who contributed to exhibits across campus promoting the First Amendment.

Five exhibits will be placed around campus that represent each of the five First Amendment rights.

Freedom of assembly: Enrollment Services Center
Freedom of petition: Parks Library
Freedom of the press: Beardshear Hall
Freedom of religion: Parks Library
Freedom of speech: Lawn south of The Hub

“This isn’t just done for journalism students or people in the Daily,” Katherine Kealey said, a senior in journalism and mass communications and editor-in-chief of the Iowa State Daily. “It’s very obvious that we’re working as the press, but everyday life is the same way.”

Kealey said being able to wear what you want and express your political opinions to friends or teachers are a few examples of ways students can exercise their First Amendment rights every day.

The First Amendment Days: Design Challenge is something Kealey said she contributed to along with members of the Iowa State Daily and students in the College of Design.

Kealey said they will be interactive and educational. She said students can check in at Parks Library to get their “First Amendment Passport” and, after viewing all the exhibits, return to get a sticker.

Another key part of First Amendment Days is Feast on the First from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Thursday in the First Amendment Tent, which will be located on central campus by east Curtiss lawn. There will be free food from the Mucky Duck Pub and festivities, including t–shirts and soap boxes.

Mark Witherspoon, former editorial adviser of the Iowa State Daily and Greenlee professor and contributor to the origins of First Amendment Days, said the celebration was inspired by an alarming statistic: only 6% of Americans could name all five freedoms the First Amendment protects.

“When I saw that in 2002, I thought we’ve got to do something about this, and at the same time, the Greenlee School had gotten a grant for $15,000,” Witherspoon said. “We decided to do something to make sure people knew what the freedoms are because without those we can’t have a democracy.”

Witherspoon said Feast on the First has been done every year if nothing else.

“We have a tent to feed students to get them there but then also debates on various subjects depending on what is going on that year,” Witherspoon said. “We get religious clubs or political clubs on campus in debate, talking about important issues. We can do that because of the First Amendment.”

Events throughout the week include several “Depth & Dialogue” sessions throughout Wednesday, April 12, which explore various First Amendment topics, are free to students and can be joined at any time depending on a student’s schedule.

The symposium, “Covering Faith: Facts and Friction in the News Media,” will also be held from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Wednesday in 172 Hamilton Hall. Free lunch, coffee and pastries will be provided.

The Faith and Media Initiative (FAMI) is a co-sponsor of the symposium. FAMI sponsored a global study in 2022 by HarrisX, a market research and consultation services company, that surveyed people from all major faiths and found that more than 82% of the world’s population identifies with some religious faith.

FAMI also found that more than half of the respondents said they feel the news media ignores people of faith unless the coverage is scandalous, sensationalized or promotes stereotypes.

The organization’s goal is to bring faith and media leaders together to begin addressing that divide and help find constructive solutions for more thoughtful, contextualized reporting on these topics.

Dave Saldana, a consultant for FAMI and a former Greenlee professor, said faith leaders of all kinds are coming from across the state for the symposium to work with students on engaging with faith and media.

“FAMI wants to help create or find and nurture those faith leaders to become spokespeople for matters of faith and civic life,” Saldana said.

Saldana said the symposium will provide practical information on writing editorial letters and opinion editorials and building trusting relationships with media so they count on faith leaders as a resource. The symposium will also work with journalism students to avoid pitfalls so they are not circulating harmful stereotypes.

Saldana said FAMI has faced some resistance from media leaders who say they do not want another special interest group trying to do their job.

“Eighty-two percent of the public is not a special interest group,” Saldana said. “That is your audience or potential audience, and for a lot of people, faith is a core part of their identity—not just a label.”

Saldana said media outlets would not go unpunished for ignoring a race, socioeconomic status or another core part of who someone is, but the media tends to do that when it comes to faith groups. He also said 56% of survey participants said if media that covers faith better exists, they will subscribe or tune in.

“[This is] an opportunity for media organizations to build a bridge and reach out to an audience that wants to be served,” Saldana said.

Witherspoon encourages all students to check out the festivities and events.

“[The First Amendment] gives anyone who so desires the opportunity to try to change the world to make it a better place—you’re in a democracy; you can do that,” Witherspoon said.