Ban on ‘The Passion of the Christ’ Continues as New Double Standards Are Revealed

January 19, 2005

FORT PIERCE, Fla., January 19, 2005—Florida’s Indian River Community College (IRCC), which recently prohibited The Passion of the Christ from being shown on campus, has admitted that last year it approved a screening of the R-rated documentary film Welcome to Sarajevo at a college-sponsored event.  This information contradicts the college’s claim to have banned all R-rated movies—an unwritten policy that it used to justify its decision to prohibit the Christian Student Fellowship (CSF) from screening The Passion of the Christ.  The admission also undermines the college’s claim that allowing a skit called “F**king for Jesus” to be performed on campus was a breakdown of procedure.

“IRCC’s double standard is shameful and causes legitimate concern that the school is not acting to enforce an actual ‘policy’ but has instead singled out religious expression for censorship,” stated David French, president of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), which intervened on behalf of CSF.  “IRCC seems to understand that adult students have a legitimate educational interest in watching an R-rated film in some cases, but rejects the idea that the same students should be able to watch a movie about their faith in a private student group meeting.  These distinctions are juvenile and demonstrate precisely why the state should not be regulating the speech of adults.”

After FIRE brought IRCC’s campaign to repress the expressive activities of the CSF to the public last week, students came forward with reports that the college has not generally prohibited R-rated films in the past.  For instance, they reported that the R-rated documentary film Welcome to Sarajevo was shown on campus in February 2004.  College spokesperson Michelle Abaldo later confirmed the showing of this film to the Palm Beach Post.  This directly conflicts with IRCC’s policy as stated in its letter to FIRE, which broadly claimed that “the College has made a determination that it is inappropriate to have R-rated movies shown on campus.”

FIRE Director of Legal and Public Advocacy Greg Lukianoff remarked, “The Supreme Court has explained that public institutions, which are bound by the First Amendment, cannot ban expression for all adults because of some theoretical fear of a minor being exposed to that expression.  To paraphrase the Court, IRCC may not reduce the discourse of the campus to that of the sandbox.”  He continued, “Applying a flat-out ban on R-rated movies excludes films with obvious educational value, from Schindler’s List to the most recent interpretations of Shakespeare.  When the MPAA established its voluntary rating system in 1968, it was never intended to be used to limit the expressive activities of adults.  IRCC has imposed an unconstitutional and patronizing rule on its students.” 

While IRCC takes time to “investigate” its own inconsistent actions and unwritten policies, CSF remains unable to meet or organize on campus because it lacks a faculty sponsor who can fulfill IRCC’s unreasonable requirement that a college official must attend every formal group meeting or event. 

“CSF must immediately be allowed to meet without a school official present,” stated Lukianoff.  “Every day that IRCC refuses to lift this unlawful requirement puts the college at greater risk of legal liability for denying students’ constitutional rights,” he added.

FIRE is a nonprofit educational foundation that unites civil rights and civil liberties leaders, scholars, journalists, and public intellectuals from across the political and ideological spectrum on behalf of individual rights, due process, freedom of expression, academic freedom, and rights of conscience at our nation’s colleges and universities.  FIRE’s efforts to preserve liberty on campuses across America can be viewed at thefire.org.

CONTACT:

Greg Lukianoff, Director of Legal and Public Advocacy, FIRE: 215-717-3473; greg@thefire.org

David French, President, FIRE: 215-717-3473; david.french@thefire.org

Edwin R. Massey, President, Indian RiverCommunity College: 772-462-4701; emassey@ircc.edu

Johnny Moore, Vice President of Student Affairs, Indian RiverCommunity College:  772-462-7788; jmoore@ircc.edu

Lori LaCivita, Coordinator of Student Leadership Development, Indian River Community College: 772-462-7476; llacivit@ircc.edu

Schools: Indian River State College Cases: Indian River Community College: Ban on ‘The Passion of the Christ’ and Repression of Free Speech