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SFSU Republicans Will Face No Punishment:

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.

Brian G (mail) (www):
That is more like. Like Cleo McDowell once said, "This is America, Jack..."
3.20.2007 3:51pm
Hans Bader (mail):
An investigation in response to speech, if sufficiently prolonger or burdensome, can itself violate the First Amendment, even if no finding of guilt or penalty or imposed. See, e.g., White v. Lee, 227 F.3d 1214 (9th Cir. 2000) (fair-housing investigation violated First Amendment).
3.20.2007 4:10pm
David Maquera (mail) (www):
I can't believe that the above case was even an issue. One wonders if a student who burned the Christian flag and wiped his ass with pages torn out of the Bible would have been prosecuted by the same authorities.
3.20.2007 4:12pm
PersonFromPorlock:
Not really enough; FIRE needs to keep at it until somebody goes to jail or pays a whacking great fine. Otherwise we're just waiting for the PCer's next serve.
3.20.2007 4:24pm
David Walser:
It would be illuminating to know to what extent the Student Organization Hearing Panel based its conclusion on the fact the protesters were unaware the flag "contained the word "Allah" written in Arabic script." If the protesters had known this fact, would the Student Organization Hearing Panel have reached a different conclusion? If not, then maybe this process will serve the beneficial purpose of clarifing that SFSU should not investigate such matters in the future.
3.20.2007 4:37pm
Prufrock765 (mail):
David Maquera:
Can you show me an example of "the Christian flag"?...I do not think I have ever seen one.
3.20.2007 4:41pm
Stacy (mail) (www):
Shouldn't something like this, at some point (whether this point or another one) constitute professional misconduct and perhaps an actionable tort for the university administration? I'm serious. They're supposed to create an environment for learning and the free exchange of ideas, not explicitly suppress speech on behalf of an illiberal ideology.
3.20.2007 4:42pm
pete (mail) (www):
Prufrock try this link. Its not like a Christian congress ever picked it or anything, but a lot churches have flags as well.
3.20.2007 4:54pm
Bryan DB:
Prufrock:
Let me help you out, if you couldn't figure out Google.

Christian flag
3.20.2007 4:56pm
myalterego:
Now if only Principal Morse had shown that restraint...

Notwithstanding Hans Bader's comment about a prolonged investigation itself being a consitutional violation (which I think is reasonable), I am trying to figure out if EV is advocating a blanket rule about investigations into political speech. It seems to me that the problem here arises because so much was known so quickly about what transpired at the event in question (due to videos on YouTube and so on). Had there been a genuine question as to whether the incident involved unprotected activity (say, inciting violence), an investigation would be entirely proper. Perhaps there was a genuine question as to whether unprotected activity occurred. I don't know.

Everyone here, and certainly FIRE, seems to be proceeding on the assumption that no unprotected activity occurred, and perhaps that's the case, but how do we know? I consider myself a staunch defender of broad free speech rights, but if they are coupled with properly prohibited activity (or the possibility of such activity), I don't see the logic in chastising those investigating the allegations unless they reach the wrong answer or are pursuing the investigation in bad faith (i.e. just to harass or embarrass one or more people).

Or perhaps I read more into the post and comments than I should have.
3.20.2007 5:06pm
californio (mail):
Prufock 765,

The Los Angeles County flag has a Christian cross (look closely), as do some other flags in the US. I think that's a good analogy to the national flags at issue at SFSU.
3.20.2007 5:06pm
Jeff Shultz (mail):
Bryan DB: - that certainly looks like the one, although perhaps in lighter shades, we have at my church.
3.20.2007 5:07pm
Steve Lubet (mail):
it would be interesting to know the composition of the Student Organization Hearing Panel. Are there students on it, and if so, how are they chosen? Faculty? Administrators?

Was there any reaction from the students who lodged the complaint?

Anyhow, thanks for bringing this to our attention. One more sorry chapter in the history of SFSU, though this time with a tolerable ending.
3.20.2007 5:07pm
Malvolio:
Just to merge threads, I will point out that the Confederate Battle Flag has the cross of St. Andrew on it. Perhaps SFSU should investigate any desecration of that.
3.20.2007 5:21pm
Crunchy Frog:
californio: not any more it doesn't. A few months ago Los Angeles County bowed to pressure from the ACLU and officially changed its seal to remove the cross (which was indicative of Spanish Catholic missions that formed the basis of Los Angeles and other cities in Southern California. It was part of our history, and the spineless jellyfish on the Board of Supervisors buried it.
3.20.2007 5:28pm
ed o:
we all know that nothing would have happened to tramplers of anything related to christianity-of course, those christers typically don't lop off heads or bomb people. this is your standard far left wing university that, for some reason, is finding a way to ally itself with a backwards religious cult. why the far left is allying itself with jihadists is one for the psychiatric trade-but, as we can see in the "anti-war" protests, it is happening and undoubtedly will continue to happen.
3.20.2007 5:29pm
Alan Miller (mail) (www):
It is surprising that the students did not know that the Arabic word for God was written on the Hizballah flag. A very cursory bit of research would have taught them that "Hizb Allah" means "Party of God" in Arabic. The word "Allah" appears on the flag, and anywhere else that the name of the group is ever written.

It seems that there are two kinds of people. The first group considers attacks on the Hizballah's flag to be a desecration of God's name. The second group considers Hizballah to be a desecration of God's name.
3.20.2007 5:41pm
neurodoc:
SFSU, probably as Leftist a campus as one will find in the US, has been roiled by incidents like this a number of times since the early 90's, and its president (Corrigan) has had his hands full dealing with them. This latest one should be considered in the context of those that have gone before when there have been confrontations, especially with Jews, over "Third World," especially Muslim, issues.



(For more, Google with combinations of terms like San Franciso State, Corrigan, Palestinian, Hillel, Malcolm X, etc.)

It is good that in the end the school took no action against the Young Republicans or any of their memebers, but too bad that the school will not have to answer as a defendant in a civil action, since then a court might have instructed the institution as to its legal responsibilities. (How many at SFSU are brave enough or crazy enough to identify themselves as Young Republicans?)
3.20.2007 5:50pm
VanMorganJr. (mail):
"this is your standard far left wing university that, for some reason, is finding a way to ally itself with a backwards religious cult. why the far left is allying itself with jihadists is one for the psychiatric trade . . ."

Another case of the enemy of my enemy is my friend. A more interesting question - how did the United States, or at least all of it between San Francisco and the Beltway, become the enemy of academia?
3.20.2007 6:07pm
neurodoc:
ed o, you write, "(W)hy the far left is allying itself with jihadists is one for the psychiatric trade-but, as we can see in the "anti-war" protests, it is happening and undoubtedly will continue to happen." Nothing all that new in this, since the Left has championed "Third World" causes for a very long time, with the Palestinians their exemplars of the "oppressed" struggling against "colonialism," "imperialism," American "hegemony," "Zionism," etc. Today, I saw an ANSWER poster that joined protest against the war in Iraq with support for the Palestinians and a call for something (not sure what) in Haiti. They are very accommodative of the likes of Hamas, Hezbollah, and others animated by anti-Americanism. But I expect you knew this already, since it isn't much of a secret.

Alan Miller, if you read some of the threads with David Bernstein's posts about Israel, you will see one person who keeps angrily demanding that DB stop referring to Hezbollah as "POG" ("Party of God") rather than as "Hezbollah." That individual thinks identifying them as "POG" rather than by the Arabic acronym bespeaks a biased perspective on Hezbollah.(?!) I myself am decidedly in your second group.
3.20.2007 6:09pm
Dick Schweitzer (mail):
Here we go back to the basic issue: The Student Code of Conduct

Notice there is no apostrophe S after "Student.

All of those attempts to shape human nature should be reviewed and revised (at a large bonfire - of the vanities of academe).

Time to burn the memos, not the books!
3.20.2007 6:15pm
gregster (mail):
For those with questions:

"it would be interesting to know the composition of the Student Organization Hearing Panel. Are there students on it, and if so, how are they chosen? Faculty? Administrators?"

The SOHP is composed of mainly faculty and administrators from various departments. I can't remember it all now but there was the Res Life Director, a pysch professor, ethnic studies professor, and I can't remember the rest.

"Was there any reaction from the students who lodged the complaint?"

The students who logged the complaint were not Muslims. The "complaint" was lodged by a student, Brian Gallagher(sp?), who after the event went looking for "offended" Muslims and found a few people willing to put their names on the complaint. These mysterious Muslim students never even showed up to the hearing. The entire fiasco was just an effort by the campus leftist groups (ISO, SAW, etc) to get the CR's punished. We know exactly who these kids were and they are just punks. This entire episode would be a total waste of time if we didn't manage to get so much publicity and awareness about the complete lack of protection for conservatives on college campuses. In that regard, this was a victory for us. While this may be a bipartisan issue - the protection of free speech should be important for everybody - this was a partisan action by leftists against conservatives and nothing more. The student government would NEVER have even bothered with this complaint if it was made against one of their preferred leftists groups like the Palestine Student Union or Students Against War or any of those other radically leftist groups. The whole thing was a sham and an embarrassment. Sadly, the situation here is not uncommon on college campuses. Now that this is finally all over we can go back to ignoring the issue and worrying about missing boy scouts and Anna Nicole Smith.

"It is surprising that the students did not know that the Arabic word for God was written on the Hizballah flag. A very cursory bit of research would have taught them that "Hizb Allah" means "Party of God" in Arabic. The word "Allah" appears on the flag, and anywhere else that the name of the group is ever written."

This is a ridiculous statement. What American is expect to know Arabic? Besides, the flag was made of butcher paper and the "symbol" was a marker squiggle and hardly an accurate representation. Moreover, we need another event this semester were we stepped on an Al Queda flag with the EXACT SAME SYMBOL and no complaint was lodged. It was about punishing the CR's for just being Republicans and nothing else. If you want more info just contact our club president at pres@gatorgop.com and he'll give you the whole story.
3.20.2007 6:42pm
Daryl Herbert (www):
The school accomplished its goal, which was to harass people it didn't like. That the students escaped without punishment isn't much comfort.
3.20.2007 6:44pm
Carolina:
FIRE's site has a PDF of the letter sent by SFSU's President to FIRE. In it, he acknowledges the disciplinary procedure was flawed because it took too long to exonerate the students and states the administration is "looking more comprehensively" at the policy in general.

That is somewhat encouraging, I guess, but as others have pointed out, given the facts were not in dispute (video of the event was available) the charges should have been dismissed basically immediately.
3.20.2007 7:01pm
Harry Eagar (mail):
Prufrock asks, 'Can you show me an example of "the Christian flag"?...I do not think I have ever seen one.'

Try matching through just about any Muslim country carrying the flag of the International Red Cross and get back to us -- from beyond the grave.

The IRC may not, probably doesn't, think of its logo as a Christian flag but I would count on about one-sixth of the world to make such subtle distinctions.

Corrigan could put a stop to this crap by assembling a collection of flags, t-shirts, posters etc from left to right and burning them all in public. The students might learn something.
3.20.2007 8:23pm
The Drill SGT:
To flog Prufrock one last time:

The Flag of England, featuring the Cross of St George. Apparently this flag is not allowed to be displayed in English prisions, because it inflames some of the inmates (guess)

Flag
3.20.2007 8:56pm
Richard Nieporent (mail):
I consider myself a staunch defender of broad free speech rights, but if they are coupled with properly prohibited activity (or the possibility of such activity), I don't see the logic in chastising those investigating the allegations unless they reach the wrong answer or are pursuing the investigation in bad faith (i.e. just to harass or embarrass one or more people).

Maybe you consider yourself a defender of free speech rights, myalterego, but your comment clearly shows that your not. Anyone who would condone an investigation because of the possibility of prohibited activity shows that he doesn't have the slightest concept of what free speech is. The mere investigation of this incident is chilling of free speech. Even if the President of SFSU was incapable of understanding that a public university must uphold the constitution, the university has enough lawyers who I am sure informed him that the university was in violation of the First Amendment. Yet they went ahead and held a hearing. Why? The reason is obvious. It was done to warn these students not to do anything like that again. So much for free speech at SFSU.
3.20.2007 8:58pm
The Drill SGT:
The English flag being distinguished from the UK flag, which is the Cross of St George overlaid on the Crosses of St Patrick and St Andrew (Ireland and Scotland respectively)
3.20.2007 8:59pm
TSW:
David Walser wrote:


It would be illuminating to know to what extent the Student Organization Hearing Panel based its conclusion on the fact the protesters were unaware the flag "contained the word "Allah" written in Arabic script."


That would indeed be helpful to know. National Review had a completely idiotic article yesterday basing its defense of the students entirely on their ignorance of this fact. Here's the quote from Brendan Conway:


The objection to the trampling of the name of Allah is reasonable. Done willfully, it would be an act of religious intolerance. The problem is, this wasn't willful, at least not as religious disrespect.


Apparently, this moron thinks blasphemy laws are constitutional so long as they have a scienter requirement. I suspect the SOHP based its decision entirely on the same grounds, which means this isn't actually a vindication of free speech at all.

As far as the issue of whether investigating the complaint itself violates free speech: shouldn't there be something analogous to a 12(b)(6) motion? If there's a factual dispute as to whether the incident might have risen to Brandenburg incitement, etc. then I can see investigating regardless of how implausible that might be. But if the activity in question would still be protected even if every allegation in the complaint were true then the investigation itself should be considered a form of punishing free expression, which seems to be the case here.
3.21.2007 1:34pm
Cameron:
If I were back in college, I'd file formal charges every time liberals and their fellow travelers shouted down a speaker, burned flags and otherwise acted like hooligans. Leftist administrators would, of course, summarily dismiss these charges--creating a nice line of precedent when conservatives are harangued with trumped-up charges.
3.21.2007 3:19pm