No Public Reading of ‘Huck Finn’ Allowed on Mississippi Campus

By on January 18, 2011

Hinds Community College (HCC) barred a paramedic student from one of his classes last year and denied him financial aid after a professor initiated a verbal confrontation with him over his language outside of class time. After FIRE intervened, HCC backed down. FIRE obtained the assistance of attorneys Robert B. McDuff and Sibyl Byrd, who took up Isaac Rosenbloom’s case and secured a settlement in his favor. HCC removed the finding and demerits from Rosenbloom’s record and restored his financial aid.

But that’s not the end of the story. HCC maintains an anti-vulgarity policy that apparently dates back to 1998. Rosenbloom sent us this picture from campus:

It reads: "NO public profanity, excessive noise, vulgarity, or cursing allowed / This includes music with obscene lyrics / $25 FINE 1st Incident / $50 FINE 2nd Incident / Suspension 3rd Incident / Citations will be issued by Campus police or any official designated by the Dean of Students/Dean. / Effective: December 1, 1998"

This is a classic example of an unconstitutionally overbroad speech code. While it permissibly bans "excessive noise" (presuming that this vague proscription is clarified in campus policy) and obscenity, it impermissibly bans a great deal of protected expression. Whether or not you like vulgarity, profanity, or cursing, they’re protected by the First Amendment. As Justice John Harlan, writing for the majority in Cohen v. California (1971), correctly observed: "[O]ne man’s vulgarity is another’s lyric."

Even if, to you, a campus where you can be fined for swearing doesn’t sound that bad, remember that this policy also bans any public reading of many classic works of Southern literature, such as Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn. For shame!

If you are an HCC student who has been punished under the policy, you should fight for your First Amendment rights and get your $25 back. Submit your case to FIRE.

Schools: Hinds Community College Cases: Hinds Community College: Student Barred from Class