FIRE has been quick to act on a ridiculous free speech case at Sam Houston State University (SHSU), where a professor took it upon himself to vandalize student speech on a "free speech wall" with no less than a box cutter.
As Adam wrote earlier, we have already sent a letter to SHSU President Dana L. Gibson, informing President Gibson that the professor’s act-cutting out a section of the free speech wall where students had written "FUCK OBAMA," due to his apparent disagreement with that message-betrays the freedom of speech to which SHSU students are entitled at the public university. This would have been quite enough embarrassment to the institution, but when the students called the campus police to report the vandalism, they were threatened by a police officer with charges of disturbing the peace and required to remove all profanity from the wall, or else take it down.
This afternoon, Robert has published a piece in the Daily Caller calling further attention to the case. Robert writes:
Insulting the president and other government officials is practically a national pastime in the United States. This is a testament to the freedom of our society; in some parts of the world, insulting those who govern earns you swift punishment, or at least official censorship. That isn’t the case in America-unless you live on a college campus.
Of the campus police’s failure to protect the speech rights of the students, Robert adds:
Worse still, the police, by threatening to charge the students with disorderly conduct rather than Prof. Kirk with vandalism, have established a "heckler’s veto" on SHSU’s campus. Institutions grant a "heckler’s veto" over expression when they allow the reactions of those who hear or see the expression to govern what might be said, creating an incentive for people to act disruptively or violently when confronted with speech they don’t like in the expectation that the police will shut it down.
But in our free society, the police can’t censor speech simply because some people don’t like what’s being said. Instead, their job is to protect those with unpopular views from those who wish to silence them. And there are few places where this job is more important than a university campus, where it’s vital that all viewpoints be able to get a hearing if the search for knowledge is to take place.
We are no strangers to defending students for using the F-word when directed at political figures. Just a few years ago, we defended the editor of a student newspaper at Colorado State University that ran an editorial reading, "Taser this…FUCK BUSH." We have also defended the use of the F-word in non-political contexts, such as at Hinds Community College and the University of Georgia. Like it or not, the word is protected speech both on and off campus. And following the law is not optional.
This case may just take the cake for its sheer ridiculousness and the shameful actions of the professor and the campus police. I can only hope that Sam Houston State University acts as swiftly to right the wrongs here as FIRE did in coming to the defense of the students.
Thanks to Robert and the Daily Caller for bringing further attention to this matter.
TAKE ACTION: Contact SHSU President Dana Gibson today and demand SHSU uphold free speech.