Last week The Washington Post published an editorial criticizing the Maryland State Senate’s imposition of a requirement that all schools in the state’s university system craft a comprehensive policy "on the use of public higher education facilities for the displaying or screening of obscene films and materials." This measure, spearheaded by Senator Andrew P. Harris, comes in direct response to a controversy over the showing of an adult film at the University of Maryland – College Park earlier this year.
The Post editorial condemns the requirement and the First Amendment threats it introduces. FIRE could not agree more, and to that end Will submitted a brief letter to the Post, which was published over the weekend.
Will’s letter reads in full:
Thank you for opposing state Sen. Andrew P. Harris’s ill-considered crusade to intimidate Maryland’s public colleges and universities into censorship ["Rated XXX," editorial, Oct 12]. By bullying Maryland schools into drafting policies to regulate the display of pornography on campus, Mr. Harris and his fellow legislators have chosen to score cheap political points at the expense of the First Amendment.
It is difficult to imagine a draft policy establishing anything other than an unconstitutional system of prior review, with nervous professors and student groups forced to submit materials for administrative approval before screening them. A "chilling effect" on speech would result, with some faculty and students choosing to self-censor rather than risk rejection.
The public college campus has been deemed by the Supreme Court to be "peculiarly the marketplace of ideas" — even those ideas that provoke strong reaction, such as the screening of "Pirates II: Stagnetti’s Revenge" and the accompanying Planned Parenthood presentation that have prompted the Board of Regents for the University System of Maryland to draft a policy "on the use of public higher education facilities for the displaying or screening of obscene films and materials."
Sen. Harris’s effort to restrict campus dialogue betrays this ideal and teaches Maryland’s students precisely the wrong lesson about free expression.