Washington State University: Administrative Support for Heckler’s Veto of Student Play

Category: Free Speech
Schools: Washington State University

Washington State University (WSU) rejected the use of a “heckler’s veto” and warned students not to disrupt a controversial student-sponsored play—a reversal from its previous act of financing and organizing the disruption of a play earlier that year, when even campus security refused to remove individuals disrupting the play. In April of 2005, WSU paid for and trained students to disrupt student playwright Chris Lee’s bitingly satirical Passion of the Musical, a play that Lee warned would be “offensive or inflammatory to all audiences.” FIRE originally wrote WSU on two occasions after Lee enlisted its help, but WSU argued that the heckling was an exercise of students’ free speech rights, despite the fact that the heckling included threats of physical violence directed at cast members. After FIRE took WSU’s reactions public, WSU reversed its position and posted a new policy stating, “Please be aware that disruption to this performance, or any program will not be tolerated and will be dealt with accordingly, up to and including participants being escorted from the venue.”














    • ‘I Believe in Free Speech and All, but I Draw the Line at Comedy Musicals!’

      May 17, 2010

      by Greg Lukianoff The Huffington Post   Back in 2005, Chris Lee, a student at Washington State University, set out make a comedy musical that, in the tradition of South Park, offended as broad a spectrum of people as possible. Unfortunately for him, he succeeded. His musical–a very loose parody of Mel Gibson’s 2004 film The Passion of the Christ–earned him protests, death threats, and even an organized attempt among administrators and students to disrupt the play. Today, my organization, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, unveils a new video about Chris’ strange journey. You can see all the […]

      » Read More

    • University presidents battle for honors in spinelessness

      May 1, 2006

      It’s time for this column to announce its Sheldon Award, given annually to the university president who does the most to look the other way when free speech is under assault on campus. As all Sheldon fans know, the prize is a statuette that looks something like the Oscar, except that the Oscar shows a man with no face looking straight ahead, whereas the Sheldon shows a man with no spine looking the other way. The award is named for Sheldon Hackney, former president of the University of Pennsylvania and a modern legend in looking the other way. College presidents, […]

      » Read More

    • WSU finally gets it: Heckling isn’t free speech

      December 16, 2005

      Hey, no heckling zombie Jesus! And if you disagree with Lucifer that “Hell is So Sweet,” keep it to yourself. At least until he’s done singing. Otherwise, you might be asked to leave the theater. A zombie Jesus and singing Lucifer are only two of the things that offended audiences earlier this year during “The Passion of the Musical” at Washington State University. Threatening to eject hecklers represents a new attitude among WSU administrators. At first, they claimed heckling was a First Amendment right. When student playwright Chris Lee presented his satirical production last April, the crowd went wild. Literally. […]

      » Read More

    • WSU takes hit on free speech

      October 22, 2005

      A national higher education watchdog group says Washington State University is failing to protect the speech rights of students who have controversial or unpopular opinions. In the latest case, an education student who describes himself as a conservative Christian was threatened with dismissal and ordered into diversity training over comments that he didn’t believe that whites are privileged, opposed adoption by gays, and wrote “diversity is perversity” in the margins of a book. Professors accused the man, 42-year-old Ed Swan of Othello, of being a white supremacist and anti-gay, but WSU dropped its threat of dismissal against Swan after the […]

      » Read More

    • Student plans new plays

      October 22, 2005

      A student playwright at Washington State University who wrote a controversial “intentionally offensive” play last year is preparing new productions. Chris Lee’s “Passion of the Musical” inflamed its audience and sparked a debate about WSU’s role in a protest of the play. University officials purchased tickets for protesters, and the school has taken the position that protesters were expressing their free-speech rights. Lee and the free-speech group Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) say the university has trampled his constitutional rights by supporting the “heckler’s veto.” Lee said protesters at his show in April made threats of violence and […]

      » Read More

    • Challenging campus free speech through theater

      October 18, 2005

      Chris Lee may choose to not graduate. Lee, a senior theatre major, will stay until he is 85 years old if he has to, he said. WSU has to learn students’ First Amendment rights before he leaves. “I want the message of freedom and speech to go through here before I go,” Lee said. “I’d rather move on and know this school is going to let freedom ring.” Spring semester, “Passion of the Musical” closed on Apr. 21 with a protest. Lee wrote, directed and starred as Lucifer in the play. Protesters who disliked the message of Lee’s self-acknowledged offensive […]

      » Read More

    • Race, free speech issues likely to linger

      August 27, 2005

      The fall semester promises to include more discussion of race and the First Amendment on the Washington State University campus as many of the main players from last school year are back in town after summer break. Last spring, a black theater major at WSU produced a deliberately provocative play at the student union that caused a stir among several groups on campus. Christopher Lee, now a senior, wrote and produced “The Passion of the Musical.” The play was protested and disrupted on its last night by a number of minority students, many of whom gained admittance to the production […]

      » Read More

    • Group Claims Biased Campus Officials Bankrolled Protest of Student Play

      July 26, 2005

      Washington State University is being accused of funding “vigilante censorship” of a controversial student play on campus. Student playwright Chris Lee’s production, Passion of the Musical, had to shut down after 40 hecklers kept interrupting, shouting about its being offensive and allegedly issuing threats against cast members. And now an academic freedom advocate is charging that a university administrator used school money to pay for the hecklers’ tickets. WSU’s president, Lane Rawlins, has defended the disruptive behavior of the 40 protesters, calling it a responsible exercise of their free-speech rights. And Raul Sanchez, director of the Center for Human Rights […]

      » Read More

    • Why does Washington State University Pay Campus Hecklers?

      July 21, 2005

      Washington State University’s web site calls the school “an ideal place to live and learn” and promises prospective students that instead of “smog or traffic jams,” they will find “an easy-going pace and eclectic college-town atmosphere.” Here’s something else WSU students don’t find much of on the Pullman campus – freedom of speech. Hecklers who shout down speakers at WSU sometimes do so on tax dollars. Hitler used Nazi thugs called “Brown Shirts” to silence opponents as he sought power in pre-war Germany. Today at WSU, the people paying the hecklers are called “administrators.” Here are the basic facts of […]

      » Read More

    • Rawlins wrong on free speech

      July 18, 2005

      V. Lane Rawlins has abetted censorship. Inadvertently, perhaps, but that’s what it was. In an attempt to placate protesters, the Washington State University president reiterated his support for faculty and students who shouted their objections this spring during the final performance of student Chris Lee’s “intentionally offensive” play, “Passion of the Musical.” In a followup letter to Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, Rawlins said the demonstrators had “exercised their rights of free speech in a very responsible manner.” Except that the “speech” they were exercising was nothing but a high-decibel barrage to drown out the message coming from the […]

      » Read More

    • Everyone’s a Critic

      July 18, 2005

      The curtain did not fall silently on the Devil. But rather to a chorus of “I am offended.” In fact, the shouts by a group of Washington State University students pervaded the final performance in April of The Passion of the Musical — a show that has become the subject of a free speech dispute months after its short run. The protesters, angry at the satire depicting the last of two days of the life of Jesus, forced the show to stop several times. At the behest of campus security guards concerned about a potential riot, Chris Lee, a theater […]

      » Read More

    • It’s time for FIRE to shout in a crowded theater

      July 18, 2005

      Jesus turns into a zombie. Lucifer sings “Hell is So Sweet.” Pontius Pilate hurls racial epithets that would make Archie Bunker blush. OK, so “Passion of the Musical” will never be mistaken for “Beauty and the Beast.” Does that give people the right to protest the play at Washington State University? You bet it does. But wait. Does it give them the right to protest the play by disrupting one of its performances? Definitely not. Washington State University President V. Lane Rawlins expressed support for the protesters after 40 of them descended on the play’s final performance April 21. Protesters […]

      » Read More

    • Play sparks controversy at WSU

      July 15, 2005

      A student play that includes racial and religious slurs has created a free speech dispute at Washington State University. The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education has asked WSU President V. Lane Rawlins to renounce his support of people who disrupted a performance of “Passion of the Musical” in April. “Performing a play is constitutionally protected free speech,” the group said in its letter. “However, disrupting a play is not.” In a short letter sent Wednesday, Rawlins thanked FIRE for its interest and suggestions, without addressing the incident directly. Student Chris Lee wrote and staged “Passion of the Musical,” a […]

      » Read More

    • New Video: How Washington State Censored a Student Musical

      February 8, 2011

      In a new video from the 2010 Campus Freedom Network (CFN) Conference, former Washington State University (WSU) student Chris Lee discusses how administrators at WSU subsidized a group of protesters to disrupt his satirical play, Passion of the Musical. When he wrote, directed, and produced Passion of the Musical in 2005, Chris sought to create a show “so offensive to everyone, they would have to speak about things that are important to them.” After WSU officials received a complaint, however, the school bought a block of tickets for protesters to attend the play. These protesters shouted down the action on […]

      » Read More

    • Schools Infringing on Free Speech Rights

      July 20, 2010

      Watch John Stossel’s interview with Greg and former Washington State University student Chris Lee, where they discuss WSU’s deplorable attempts to censor Lee’s satirical musical and the wider infirmity of politically correct speech codes on campus. 

      » Read More

    • Tonight on ‘Stossel’: Here Come the Speech Police

      July 15, 2010

      Recently, as Torch readers saw here, John Stossel’s syndicated column paid heed to Keith John Sampson’s outrageous case at Indiana University – Purdue University Indianapolis. Today, in a blog entry previewing tonight’s Stossel program, he notes an equally outrageous case: that of Washington State University student Chris Lee, whose satirical The Passion of the Musical was viciously shouted down by students whose tickets had been bought and paid for by WSU administrators. As Stossel puts it: [Lee] didn’t trick people. He got everyone who attended the show to sign a statement saying that they knew the play was offensive. But […]

      » Read More

    • New FIRE Video on Vigilante Censorship Promotes Release of ‘New Threats to Freedom’

      May 17, 2010

      Tomorrow, Templeton Press’ new book New Threats to Freedom hits bookstores. To mark the release of this volume, which features original essays from a wide variety of noted authors including playwright David Mamet (of Glengarry Glen Ross fame), journalist Christopher Hitchens, author Christina Hoff Sommers, and many others, FIRE is releasing a brand new video featuring one of the main cases covered in FIRE President Greg Lukianoff’s own chapter of the book, “Students Against Liberty?” We need your help getting the word out about the video! The video highlights the case of Washington State University student Chris Lee, an African-American […]

      » Read More

    • This Month in FIRE History: Washington State University Bankrolls Vigilante Censorship

      July 29, 2009

      Over four years have passed since our fight with Washington State University began, but it still remains one of the most astonishing cases we have ever handled. It surrounded a controversial and purposefully offensive play that aimed, according to the playwright, Chris Lee, “to show people we’re not that different, we all have issues that can be made fun of.”  Lee was clear about these intentions and the fact that the play was not suitable for minors in the play’s promotional materials. The play was entitled “Passion of the Musical” and parodied Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ,” one […]

      » Read More

    • WSU ends ‘hecklers veto’ aid but threatens conservative student’s graduation

      December 17, 2005

      It shouldn’t have taken a threatened law suit and being held up to nationwide public scorn but Washington State University officials have stopped paying student hecklers who shout down speakers with whom they disagree. Unfortunately, the stench remains strong at Washington State University of a Stalinist suppression of political views that deviate from the politically correct academic liberal orthodoxy. Regular readers of this space will recall from this July column that the controversy began when it was learned university administrators were paying students to heckle the production of a controversial play by a student author. Student playwright Chris Lee warned […]

      » Read More

    • Victory for Freedom of Expression at Washington State

      December 12, 2005

      PULLMAN, Wash., December 12, 2005—Thanks to a campaign led by the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), Washington State University (WSU) has rejected the “heckler’s veto” and warned students not to disrupt a controversial play. WSU financed and organized the disruption of a different play by the same student playwright earlier this year. “WSU has apparently been embarrassed into respecting free artistic expression,” stated FIRE Director of Legal and Public Advocacy Greg Lukianoff. “It is long past time that WSU recognized that shouting down a play, like wantonly tearing down controversial artwork, is the very opposite of free speech.” […]

      » Read More

    • Washington State University Continues Campaign of Repression

      October 12, 2005

      PULLMAN, Wash., October 12, 2005—In recent months, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) has intervened twice at Washington State University to protect students’ freedom of expression.  After publicly proclaiming respect for their students’ rights, Washington State administrators have now made clear that, between their grading students on their politics and their paying for hecklers to disrupt student plays, liberty is still in dire straits in Pullman. “The latest developments at Washington State are quite revealing,” remarked FIRE President David French.  “After the administration twice refused to apologize for subsidizing disruptive hecklers and refused to guarantee that it wouldn’t […]

      » Read More

    • Playing Politically Correct

      July 28, 2005

      Protesters disrupted his play by shouting down the actors, blocking the aisles, rushing the stage and threatening the audience, and student playwright Chris Lee expected Washington State University officials to  ake action. They did, but not quite in the way he expected. After an inquiry, the university’s Center for Human Rights concluded that the student hecklers had engaged in an appropriate expression of free speech after being provoked by the play “Passion of the Musical.” University President V. Lane Rawlins agreed, telling a faculty member in an e-mail that the protesters had “exercised their rights of free speech in a […]

      » Read More

    • Washington State University Bankrolls Vigilante Censorship

      July 18, 2005

      PULLMAN, Wash., July 18, 2005—In a shameful distortion of the First Amendment, Washington State University has morally and financially supported disruptive heckling and threats at a controversial student play. Washington State went so far as to pay for hecklers to attend student playwright Chris Lee’s Passion of the Musical. It then allowed the hecklers to repeatedly disrupt the musical through shouts and threats of violence. Washington State’s president later defended the hecklers’ behavior as a “responsible” exercise of free speech. “Students have a right to leave a play, protest outside of the theater, and condemn a play in the newspaper. […]

      » Read More

    • WSU chief stands by protesters at biting play

      July 14, 2005

      Washington State University President V. Lane Rawlins refused Wednesday to renounce the school’s position on an “intentionally offensive” student play that deteriorated into a shouting match in April. A national advocacy group, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, asked Rawlins to do so, arguing that his apparent support for about 40 protesters who disrupted a performance of “Passion of the Musical” amounts to supporting the censorship of the “heckler’s veto.” “Performing a play is constitutionally protected free speech,” the group said in its letter. “However, disrupting a play is not.” In a five-sentence letter sent Wednesday, Rawlins essentially thanked […]

      » Read More