Speech on Your Dorm Room Door:

The North Carolina State Technician newspaper reports:

"No Blacks allowed White Room Only, Blacks next door," a sign on the door of an Avent Ferry Complex apartment read last Thursday [Feb. 14] ....

"It was referred to the University for disorderly conduct and racial harassment," [Chief of Campus Police Tom] Younce said....

The reporter told me (in response to my e-mail) that the sign was put up by the apartment's three residents. The apartment is in a school-run dorm.

The sign is repulsive (unless it's some joke that all the neighbors grasped as such, but that the administration somehow overreacted to), but it is constitutionally protected by the First Amendment against administrative punishment, whether on a "disorderly conduct" theory (which would presumably focus on the sign's general offensiveness and tendency to lead to hostility and possible fights) or on a "racial harassment" theory. The university could ban all signs on the outside of dorm room doors (though see this contrary view), but even in a "nonpublic forum" such as dorm room doors, it can't impose viewpoint-based bans that forbid racist speech but allow other speech. Nor does the narrow "fighting words" exception apply to speech like this, which isn't focused on a particular person.

One justification I heard for a possible ban on such signs is that the university can ban discrimination in housing, and therefore can ban signs that announce to students that they will be so discriminated against. But I'm not sure that a university could, even in its capacity as landlord, interfere with tenants' "intimate association" right to choose whom to allow into their living rooms (or bedrooms). And even if it constitutionally could have, I highly doubt that North Carolina State would impose such a shocking constraint on people's freedom of choice in whom to socialize with. If you don't want blacks, white, Scientologists, men, or anyone else in your home, it seems to me you should be free to make that choice. So if the university wants to defend the restriction on the grounds that they ban discrimination in choice of guests, I'd like to hear them do that — that would be even more scandalous than the punishment of the speech.

UPDATE: I inadvertently originally cast the last paragraph as if the university had already found the sign to be punishable; I've corrected this to reflect the fact that right now there's just a question whether the sign is punishable.