San Francisco State University: Students Investigated for Stepping on Flags

Category: Free Speech
Schools: San Francisco State University

The College Republicans at San Francisco State University held an anti-terrorism protest against Hezbollah and Hamas by stomping on homemade replicas of those organizations’ flags. Unbeknownst to the students, the flags of the two organizations contain the word “Allah” in Arabic script. Another student complained, alleging “acts of incivility,” “intimidation,” and the creation of a “hostile environment.” The school responded by instituting disciplinary action against the College Republicans. After FIRE intervened, the college ended the investigation and decided not to punish the students involved. However, the incident led to litigation over SFSU’s speech codes, which is detailed here.

  • Judge says CSU speech policies raise serious constitutional concerns

    December 11, 2007

    A federal judge has ordered that the speech policies for all 28 schools in the California State University system be suspended or limited while a First Amendment challenge works its way through the courts. U.S. Magistrate Judge Wayne Brazil issued the preliminary injunction Oct. 31, saying that the policy contains serious constitutional problems. A written order on the matter was still pending at press time. “The university is supposed to be the ‘marketplace of ideas,’ but these speech codes, with few exceptions, are selectively applied against Christian and conservative students,” said David Hacker, staff counsel for Alliance Defense Fund, which […]

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  • Students who ‘desecrated’ terrorist flags vindicated

    November 9, 2007

    In a decision hailed as a victory for free speech, a federal judge ordered San Francisco State University and the California State University system to stop enforcing speech codes used to prosecute students for the “desecration” of flags used by terrorist groups. U.S. Magistrate Judge Wayne Brazil issued a preliminary injunction to bar the schools from enforcing several policies challenged in a lawsuit. One required students to act in accordance with SFSU “goals, principles, and policies” and another, a CSU system-wide policy, called for students “to be civil to one another.” “This decision is a vital step in the fight […]

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  • San Francisco State latest target in anti-speech code campaign

    July 18, 2007

    For a number of years, the Philadelphia-based Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) has been successfully waging a war on college speech codes the organization claims run afoul of protected free speech rights. The organization has won pivotal victories against Shippensburg University in Pennsylvania, Texas Tech University, the State University of New York at Brockport and California’s Citrus College. Now, San Francisco State University (SFSU) is squarely within FIRE’s crosshairs. With the assistance of the Alliance Defense Fund, a leading Christian public interest law firm, FIRE has sued SFSU claiming that the university’s policies violated the First Amendment rights […]

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  • When Hezbollah trumps Old Glory

    July 16, 2007

    Most Americans know that burning our nation’s flag is protected by the First Amendment. No matter how distasteful to some, the Supreme Court has consistently held flag-burning to be protected as expressive political conduct.   So if burning an American flag is protected speech, burning other flags—say, the flags of political parties considered to be terrorist groups by our government—would  also be protected speech, right?   Right—except  at San Francisco State University (SFSU), where the First Amendment takes a backseat to Hamas and Hezbollah. As part of an anti-terrorism rally held on campus last October, SFSU’s College Republicans stepped on […]

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  • Allah Says: Don’t tread on me

    July 10, 2007

    by Jacob Sullum Reason Online   College Republicans at San Francisco State University recently filed a federal lawsuit challenging the speech restrictions that led to a five-month investigation of the group after an anti-terrorism rally last October. Participants in the rally stepped on paper facsimiles of the Hamas and Hezbollah flags in a deliberate counterpoint to similar treatment of the U.S. flag by members of those groups. Afterward a student complained that the College Republicans had “incited violence,” created a “hostile environment,” and engaged in “actions of incivility.” Although both the ACLU and the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education […]

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  • A story about flag stomping you won’t believe

    July 10, 2007

    San Francisco State University is being sued for allegedly violating the rights of students who stomped on Hamas and Hezbollah flags during an anti-terrorism rally. The Alliance Defense Fund and the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education—also called FIRE—have filed the suit in federal court on behalf of the College Republicans club and two individual students. The lawsuit contends the school conducted an illegal investigation into the flag stomping incident. FIRE says it wrote to the school president twice to stress that a public university is not permitted to prosecute students for engaging in a peaceful protest or desecrating any […]

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  • Ban on desecrating terrorist flags challenged

    July 10, 2007

    A lawsuit filed by the Alliance Defense Fund is targeting the speech codes imposed on students by the university system in California after several students were prosecuted for the “desecration” of flags used by terrorist groups. “America’s colleges and universities should recognize the constitutional rights of Christian and politically conservative students just as they do for all other students,” said David French, senior legal counsel for the ADF and chief of the ADF Center for Academic Freedom. “Officials at San Francisco State are required to respect the U.S. Constitution, which protects the right to free speech in exactly these kinds […]

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  • Students sue university over probe of anti-terror rally

    July 10, 2007

    San Francisco State University was sued yesterday for allegedly violating students’ right to free speech when it investigated an incident during which students stomped on flags bearing the name of Allah. The Alliance Defense Fund, in cooperation with the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, filed the federal lawsuit on behalf of the plaintiffs—the College Republicans club and members Trent Downes and Leigh Wolf. FIRE’s Speech Codes Litigation Project worked to coordinate the suit but does not represent the plaintiffs. The lawsuit charges the university with having violated the plaintiffs’ First Amendment rights by dragging them through a five-month investigation […]

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  • SFSU sued for investigating stomping of flag with Allah’s name

    July 9, 2007

    by Associated Press International Herald Tribune San Francisco State University was sued for allegedly violating students’ right to free speech when it investigated an incident during which students stomped on flags bearing the name of Allah. The Alliance Defense Fund and the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) filed the federal lawsuit on behalf of the plaintiffs—the College Republicans club and two of its members. The case charges the university with having violated the plaintiffs’ First Amendment rights by dragging them through a five-month investigation and campus tribunal after they stepped on Hamas and Hezbollah flags during an anti-terrorism […]

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  • Lawsuit accuses San Francisco State U. of violating rights of College Republicans

    July 9, 2007

    The College Republicans at San Francisco State University sued it today for alleged violations of the group’s First Amendment rights. As part of an anti-terrorism rally at San Francisco State last year, members of the political group’s campus chapter stomped on makeshift flags of Hamas and Hezbollah, which the U.S. government considers terrorist organizations. (Both flags include Arabic script spelling the word “Allah,” but the lawsuit says the plaintiffs did not know that.) The university investigated the College Republicans and conducted a disciplinary hearing, though ultimately it found no violation of its code of student conduct. The lawsuit—filed on behalf […]

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  • Do College Republicans hate Allah?

    April 9, 2007

    The College Republicans at San Francisco State University recently found themselves under investigation for the offenses of flag desecration and blasphemy. While the disciplinary proceedings ended late last month with a decision not to punish the student group, the investigation itself points to a troubling trend. The alleged blasphemy was directed at Islam, and the desecrated flag contained no stars or stripes. At a small anti-terrorism rally in October 2006, several members of the College Republicans stomped on pieces of paper they had painted to look like flags of the radical Islamic organizations Hezbollah and Hamas, copying the designs from […]

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  • University won’t punish College Republicans for anti-terror rally

    March 29, 2007

    San Francisco State University’s College Republicans will not face sanctions after hosting a rally during which students stepped on pieces of paper they had painted to resemble the Hezbollah and Hamas flags. The anti-terrorism demonstration on Oct. 17, 2006, prompted another student to file a complaint because the flags contain the Arabic word for “Allah.” The complaint alleged that the Republicans had attempted to “incite violence and create a hostile environment.” SFSU administrators held a hearing to evaluate the charges, which could have resulted in sanctions to force the group to apologize or even remove their organization from campus. The […]

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  • Stepping out

    March 22, 2007

    College Republicans at San Francisco State University held an anti-terrorism rally last October during which they stepped on pieces of paper painted to resemble the flags of the terror groups Hamas and Hezbollah. Another student filed a formal complaint accusing the Republican group of attempting to incite violence and creating a hostile environment. The school took it seriously enough to schedule a formal hearing. The students’ rights group called the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education said the hearing was illegal—contending a public institution cannot prosecute students for political protests. The hearing was held—and the College Republicans were exonerated. University […]

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  • Flag-stomping rabble rousers found not guilty

    March 21, 2007

    The SF State College Republicans will not face sanctions for allegedly breaking the student code of conduct when they stepped on homemade flags with the Arabic symbol for Allah. The Student Organization Hearing Panel, or SOHP, unanimously ruled Friday that there were no grounds to punish the club for “inciting violence and of actions of incivility” for its members’ actions during an anti-terrorism rally Oct. 17, 2006. Also, Associated Students Inc. abruptly rescinded their Nov. 15, 2006 resolution condemning the College GOPs by unanimous vote last Wednesday. Though ASI President Maire’ Fowler was originally a strong proponent of condemning the […]

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  • Students who ‘desecrated Allah’ acquitted

    March 21, 2007

    After months of pressure, San Francisco State University has decided not to punish College Republicans it charged with desecrating the name of Allah by stepping on makeshift Hezbollah and Hamas flags at an anti-terrorism rally. Led by the non-profit advocacy group Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, the public and some media outlets had called on the school to “uphold the students’ constitutionally guaranteed right to free expression. “We are relieved that SFSU has come to its senses and recognized that it cannot punish students for constitutionally protected expression,” FIRE President Greg Lukianoff said. “But the fact remains that the […]

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  • The San Francisco University kangaroo court

    March 14, 2007

    San Francisco University is investigating its College Republicans for hosting an anti-terrorism rally on campus in which participants stepped on makeshift Hezbollah and Hamas flags. Several Muslims students filed a complaint arguing they were offended because the flags bore the word “Allah” and the actions were intended to incite and create a hostile environment. Yet desecrating a flag—even burning an American flag however distasteful this act may be—is an expression protected by the First Amendment as recent Court cases have suggested and cannot be punished at a public university. Robert Shibley, president of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education […]

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  • San Francisco values don’t include conservative speech

    March 13, 2007

    by Joe Murray The Evening Bulletin Ever since the sit-ins of the ‘60s, one thing has been painstakingly clear for many a college campus. Universities are the incubators of free speech activity and the soapbox of choice for those cultural revolutionaries lobbying for unpopular, if not controversial, ideas. During the flower power days of academia, Hanoi Jane embodied the counter culture and its cause was a struggle against U.S. cultural imperialism aboard. To the Woodstock warrior, Jim Crowe was public enemy No. 1 and the war in Vietnam was not only a bad decision, but also an immoral one to […]

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  • San Francisco State forgets a great American ideal: free speech

    March 12, 2007

    In 1989, the Supreme Court handed down its decision in Texas v. Johnson declaring it a constitutional right for individuals to burn the American flag in political protest. The Court wrote: …recognizing the communicative nature of conduct relating to flags. Attaching a peace sign to the flag, refusing to salute the flag, and displaying a red flag…may find shelter under the First Amendment. The Supreme Court ruled that such actions in the context of a political protest are expressive political speech protected by the free speech clause of the First Amendment. This is the state of First Amendment law. Burning […]

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  • Film’s view of Islam stirs anger on campuses

    February 26, 2007

    When “Obsession: Radical Islam’s War Against the West,” a documentary that shows Muslims urging attacks on the United States and Europe, was screened recently at the University of California, Los Angeles, it drew an audience of more than 300 — and also dozens of protesters. At Pace University in New York, administrators pressured the Jewish student organization Hillel to cancel a showing in November, arguing it could spur hate crimes against Muslim students. A Jewish group at the State University of New York at Stony Brook also canceled the film last semester. The documentary has become the latest flashpoint in […]

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  • Higher ed’s support for terrorism

    February 13, 2007

    by Jason Rantz Family Security Matters A dangerous trend is brewing on our college campuses, and it’s empowering our enemies. As bastions of far left political thought, college campuses are doing what they can to give soap boxes to students and professors who are against the War on Terror, while silencing anyone on campus who dares to support our efforts to defeat our enemies. Take, for example, recent events at San Francisco State University (SFSU), where the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) reports on a frightening disrespect for free speech: …San Francisco State University (SFSU) is investigating its […]

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  • Desecration

    February 11, 2007

    A state university in California is weighing punishment for students who disrespected a flag. Not the American flag, of course. The College Republicans at San Francisco State University are in hot water for stomping on the flags of the terrorist groups Hamas and Hezbollah during an October “anti-terrorism rally.” Little did they know, the flags bear the name of Allah in Arabic script—the trampling of which is a grave offense to Islam. The university is currently weighing whether to punish the students even though they couldn’t have known. It is expected to hold a disciplinary hearing in the coming weeks. […]

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  • S.F. State—Hecklers’ paradise

    February 8, 2007

    What is San Francisco State University teaching that makes student leaders think that if they don’t like what other students say, they can use student organizations to stifle those with dissenting views? Do they even know about the First Amendment? This story starts with an “anti-terrorism rally” held last October on campus by the College Republicans. To emphasize their point, students stomped on Hezbollah and Hamas flags. According to the college paper, the Golden Gate (X)Press, members of Students Against War and the International Socialist Organization showed up to call the Republicans “racists,” while the president of the General Union […]

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  • Playing with FIRE

    February 8, 2007

    It’s all well and good to desecrate a flag these days—as long as it’s an American flag. If the flag represents, say, a terrorist organization such as Hamas, then you could find yourself in trouble. The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education performs an estimable service by defending free speech on college campuses. It doesn’t choose sides, defending only the speech it likes or agrees with. FIRE has defended individuals from across the ideological spectrum. In the current case, it’s sticking up for a group of College Republicans at San Francisco State University (SFSU) who held an anti-terrorism rally at […]

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  • This Month in FIRE History: San Francisco State University Investigates Students for Anti-Terrorism Protest

    February 17, 2012

    Five years ago this month, FIRE first publicized a case at San Francisco State University (SFSU) that ignited public attention and eventually led to a significant legal victory for student rights.  In October 2006, the College Republicans at San Francisco State University held an anti-terrorism rally on campus, during which they stepped on makeshift Hezbollah and Hamas flags. In response, several students filed complaints with the school, protesting that they were offended because the flags bore the word “Allah” (written in Arabic), a fact unknown to the College Republicans. Rather than defend the constitutional rights of its students to peaceably […]

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  • Anti-Hamas Rally Stirs Controversy, Calls for Punishment at SFSU

    February 16, 2009

    The College Republicans at San Francisco State University (SFSU) held an anti-Hamas rally on Wednesday at which at least one group member stepped on a Hamas flag, apparently leading offended students to call for the group’s punishment. No, we haven’t accidentally re-posted our “This Month in FIRE History” blog—believe it or not, these events just happened last week!  Reaction to the rally has been fast and furious; according to the College Republicans’ blog, a coalition of students offended by the rally will shortly be releasing a statement containing the following demands: Authorities must drop all charges pending against [the two […]

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  • This Month in FIRE History: San Francisco State University Investigates Students for Anti-Terrorism Protest

    February 13, 2009

    As documented in our video FIRE on Campus: An Introduction to the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, one of FIRE’s most shocking February cases over our ten-year history began two years ago at San Francisco State University, when the university administration responded to FIRE defending its decision to investigate the College Republicans for an anti-terrorism rally. As a part of the group’s event, they painted mock Hamas and Hezbollah flags on large pieces of paper and stepped on them to show their outrage for the actions of those groups. Unbeknownst to the protestors, the flags they had copied contained […]

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  • Victory for Free Expression at San Francisco State University

    March 20, 2007

    SAN FRANCISCO, March 20, 2007—In a crucial victory for free expression, 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. “We are relieved that SFSU has come to its senses and recognized that it cannot punish students for constitutionally protected […]

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  • Free Speech on Trial Today at San Francisco State University

    March 9, 2007

    SAN FRANCISCO, March 9, 2007—Showing brazen disregard for its students’ clearly established constitutional rights, San Francisco State University (SFSU) is putting the College Republicans on trial today for hosting an anti-terrorism rally at which participants stepped on makeshift Hezbollah and Hamas flags. University officials have alleged that the students desecrated the name of Allah, which is written on both flags in Arabic script. The student group’s leadership contacted the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) for help when they first learned of the school’s investigation. “SFSU must call off this hearing immediately,” FIRE President Greg Lukianoff said. “The College […]

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  • FIRE Letter to San Francisco State University President Robert A. Corrigan, March 7, 2007

    March 7, 2007

    March 7, 2007 President Robert A. Corrigan President’s Office, ADM 562 1600 Holloway Avenue San Francisco, California 94132 URGENT Sent via U.S. Mail and Facsimile (415-338-6210) Dear President Corrigan: It is with both deep disappointment and renewed resolve that FIRE is forced to write to you again to voice our grave concern about the threat to free expression posed by San Francisco State University’s (SFSU’s) ongoing investigation of the SFSU College Republicans for the content of an anti-terrorism rally held October 17, 2006. FIRE has learned that SFSU’s Student Organization Hearing Panel (SOHP) plans to hold a hearing this Friday, […]

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  • God and Man in San Francisco

    February 9, 2007

    Yesterday, FIRE took public one of its more outrageous cases: that of San Francisco State University (SFSU), where the College Republicans are to stand trial for stomping on Hamas and Hezbollah flags during a protest. The specific “offenses?” “Incitement” and creating a “hostile environment.” Now, it’s well-known to just about everyone with any knowledge of the First Amendment that burning an American flag is protected political expression. We have to assume that SFSU knows this too, and has managed to reason out that if you can cause whatever damage you like to an American flag, you can certainly do the […]

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  • San Francisco State University Investigates Students for Anti-Terrorism Protest

    February 8, 2007

    SAN FRANCISCO, Calif., February 8, 2007—In a profound display of disrespect for free speech, San Francisco State University (SFSU) is investigating its College Republicans for hosting an anti-terrorism rally on campus in which participants stepped on makeshift Hezbollah and Hamas flags. After students filed a complaint claiming they were offended because the flags bore the word “Allah,” SFSU initiated an investigation into accusations of incitement, creation of a hostile environment, and incivility. Members of the College Republicans then contacted the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) for assistance. “At a public university, stepping on a flag—even burning an American […]

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