FIRE, Firefly, and the First Amendment

April 23, 2012

James Miller, a theater professor at the University of Wisconsin in Stout, is a fan of Firefly, Joss Whedon’s short-lived science fiction series. Evidently Lisa A. Walter, the school’s chief of police, is not.

After Miller put a Firefly poster on his office door last September, Walter removed it, explaining in an email message that "it is unacceptable to have postings such as this that refer to killing." She claimed the poster was not covered by the First Amendment, since it "can be interpreted as a threat."

To protest Walter’s censorship, Miller put up a poster that shows the silhouette of a cop beating a prone man and bears the message "WARNING: FASCISM." Walter removed that poster too, complaining that it "depicts violence."

When Miller was summoned to discuss "the concerns raised by the campus threat assessment team" with his college’s dean, he contacted the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), which intervened on his behalf. The administration backed down after news of the case set off a storm of negative publicity, including widely seen tweets by British novelist Neil Gaiman and Firefly stars Nathan Fillion (who was pictured in the poster) and Adam Baldwin.

Schools: University of Wisconsin – Stout Cases: University of Wisconsin – Stout: Censorship, Referral to Threat Assessment Team, and Threat of Criminal Charges after Professor Puts Posters Outside Office Door