The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education responds:
San Francisco State University (SFSU) announced yesterday that its College Republicans will face no punishment for hosting an anti-terrorism rally at which participants stepped on makeshift Hezbollah and Hamas flags. SFSU's decision comes after months of pressure from the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), national and local media, and the public -- all of which called on the school to uphold the students' constitutionally guaranteed right to free expression....
SFSU's [action] began after an October 17, 2006 anti-terrorism rally at which several members of the College Republicans stepped on pieces of paper they had painted to resemble Hamas and Hezbollah flags. Unbeknownst to the protestors, the flags they had copied contained the word "Allah" written in Arabic script. On October 26, a student filed a formal complaint with the university against the College Republicans, alleging "attempts to incite violence and create a hostile environment" and "actions of incivility." Although university administrators could have settled the matter informally or dismissed the charges outright, the university instead chose to press forward with a hearing on the charges.
FIRE wrote to SFSU President Robert A. Corrigan on January 23, 2007, to stress that no American public institution can lawfully prosecute students for engaging in political protest or for desecrating religious symbols. SFSU replied to FIRE's letter on January 29 by saying that the university would continue to investigate the complaint. When SFSU scheduled a hearing for March 9, FIRE immediately wrote to President Corrigan again to urge him to call off the hearing. Undeterred by clearly established constitutional jurisprudence, SFSU went forward with the hearing as scheduled. President Corrigan then responded to FIRE on March 13, once again standing by the university's disciplinary process.
Yesterday afternoon, President Corrigan wrote to FIRE with the welcome news that "the Student Organization Hearing Panel (SOHP) unanimously concluded that the College Republicans organization had not violated the Student Code of Conduct and that there were no grounds to support the student complaint lodged against them." ...
Glad to hear it, but I agree with FIRE: "The College Republicans should never have been dragged through an investigation and hearing for their protected political expression, and it is an outrage that SFSU carried on with this for so long when it had the power to dismiss the charges informally. We hope that SFSU will make whatever policy changes are necessary to ensure that this does not happen again."
If SFSU responded to an allegation that some group had insulted the President, or opposed the war, or criticized Christianity, by putting them through an extended investigation and a hearing, I take it we'd be quite troubled even if ultimately SFSU exonerated the students. The same should apply if the allegation is that the group trampled on the name of Allah.
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- McLean's Article on the Campaign to Create an International Law Norm Banning "Defamation of Religion":
- Opinion Preliminarily Enjoining SFSU Civility Code...
- The New Anti-Blasphemy Rules, Again:
- SFSU Republicans Will Face No Punishment:
- Cambridge Student "at the Centre of a Race-Hate Probe After Printing Anti-Islamic Material":...
- The Effort to Ban "Defamation of Religion" and the Democracy Deficit of International Law:
- Baltimore Hebrew University Professor Supporting Legal Penalties for "Negative Depiction of Religion":
- A New International Law "Value" -- Freedom from "Defamation of Religions"?