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UNG general counsel calls Dahlonega rally ‘amazing win for the First Amendment’
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Trump supporters attend a pro-Trump rally Saturday, Sept. 14, 2019, in downtown Dahlonega. - photo by Scott Rogers

University of North Georgia general counsel Jenna Colvin worked Friday and Saturday to support the school’s efforts in protecting free speech in relation to a rally and counterprotest at the Dahlonega public square that connects to the school’s campus.

Colvin joined UNG political science professor Douglas Young and associate anthropology professor Steven Nicklas for a panel Monday hosted by the American Democracy Project and the UNG Gainesville Politically Incorrect Club.

“I’m joining you today with the experience of what I think is probably a once-in-a-lifetime type of event, where there were over 600 law enforcement officers from more than 36 agencies protecting 200 individuals’ rights to engage in expressive activity,” she said.

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A Georgia Department of Corrections officer stands guard Saturday, Sept. 14, 2019, at the Gold Museum in downtown Dahlonega between the pro-Trump rally group and anti-white supremacist demonstrators. - photo by Scott Rogers

Colvin compared the event to the 1960s, a time when she said the government used its tools to repress speech. She lauded the work by the mayor, city council and others who helped protect free speech rights.

“From my perspective, that’s an amazing win for the First Amendment and the Constitution,” she said.

Turning to the legal interpretation of the First Amendment, Colvin said university employees at public institutions are concerned state actors and “have to be careful … to make sure we are not infringing on anyone’s constitutional rights as it relates to free speech.”

“It is important that students get to be exposed to a broad range of ideas in their classrooms, in the community (and) on campus. Sometimes those ideas might be different than what they have had previous exposure to, but that’s part of what happens here,” Colvin said.

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Trump supporter and right-wing activist Jovanni Valle speaks Saturday, Sept. 14, 2019, in Dahlonega during a pro-Trump rally on the square. - photo by Scott Rogers

Young pointed to certain cultural and generational changes including politically polarized media, with each side of the political spectrum having outlets to validate their previously held beliefs and “making all others all the more weird and bad.”

“The fact is, conservatives and liberals no longer even live in the same neighborhoods or even the same parts of the country, and we no longer worship together. Conservatives and liberals increasingly choose different majors and go into different professions, and in our personal lives, we tolerate ever fewer friends or dates who don’t share our political views. Romantic relationships and even marriages can break up over political differences,” Young said.

Colvin said any outside individual not invited as a guest by a university community member can make a reservation to use the designated public forum in the area between the student center and the Strickland building.

“Under the expressive activity policy, you can be engaged in expressive activity in many places on campus, basically not the non-public areas. … There are some areas that because of (their) mission — professor’s offices, administrative offices — those are not available for expressive activity,” she said.

University community members only need to make a reservation for the designated public forum space if they are putting together a group of more than 25 people.

Between 10:30 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. Saturday, there were three arrests made by law enforcement before and during the rally and counter-protest. 

One person was charged by UNG Police with obstruction and possession of a weapon in a school safety zone, and two were charged with inciting a riot.

According to the Lumpkin County booking log, the two inciting a riot arrests were made on two 22-year-olds on the public square, one from Canton and one from Columbus.

The Lumpkin County Sheriff’s Office did not provide any new information Monday, Sept. 16, regarding the substance for the charges.

The Times has requested the UNG police report.

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